It was Richard’s preaching, backed by the Holy Spirit, that opened my heart to receive Jesus Christ as my Saviour and, under his tutelage, I have learned to likewise preach under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Decades later, I still remember the first time I heard Richard preach. Now bear in mind, I had heard messages from the pulpits many times before. Not because I was a Christian – I believed Jesus Christ and Him crucified to be the least likely thing to be true in the universe at the time – but I had grown up attending church (from time to time) with my mother as so many other children do. I also had attended services with friends and their families or, while I lived in Peru, with the people in the community where I lived. In fact, I even heard the pope preach in Lima, Peru one time. Still, never had I heard the Word of God spoken from the pulpit. That is sad, but true.
In fact, it was my experience in the church, so-called, and with Christians, so-called, coupled with my study of history, that led me to the belief that the Gospel of Jesus Christ could not be true. The only reason I attended Richard’s service that day was because my sister was a part of his fellowship. I attended, not because I expected to come to know God or learn something about God, but rather as a kind of cultural experience – i.e. let me see what these people are up to.
Immediately, I knew there was something different about what was going on in this crowded living room than what I had experienced previously. First, there was a genuine joy in the people as they worshiped the Lord. That was quite contrary to the solemn funeral dirges I had witnessed in most churches. Second, when Richard began to preach, he preached not as other ministers did, but as one having authority, just as I had recently read that Jesus did in contrast to the scribes and pharisees. That difference sparked what ended up being a 28 hour witnessing event and Bible study that ultimately resulted in my receiving the Lord and dedicating my life to be His minister the next day.
Over time, I came to see that Richard’s word was with power, just as Jesus’ Word had been with power to the dismay and confounding of the religious leaders of His day. The early Church generally and the Apostle Paul, in particular, walked likewise. Unfortunately, this point seems to be lost in most churches today, where the Gospels and the Book of Acts are like ancient legends, rather than the living Word of God for us to partake of likewise today, in accordance with God’s promises.
With Richard, the opposite was true. His focus, like Jesus’ and the Apostle Paul’s, was on the power of God. One of his favorite passages to highlight this fact is I Corinthians 2:1-5, which reads as follows (emphasis added in italics):
1 ¶ And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.
2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
3 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.
4 And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
After all, it is by the power of God that we will be resurrected. How is anyone to believe in the resurrection, if that power – which the Scripture through the ages is rife with examples of – can’t help you with anything that is going on in your life today?
The truth is that the commandment of God is that we walk, being one with our Lord Jesus Christ and one with God the Father, just as some in the early Church did. For example, the Church of the Thessalonians did, the deacons Stephen and Philip did, the Apostles did, the prophets Judas and Silas did and we should too. They walked in the power and love of God and the world was turned upside down as a result. They were our examples that we might do likewise.
Such messages were my daily bread as a young minister in training, but when it came to how to preach, the Lord (through Richard) had another surprise up His sleeve. Most ministers study, research, write down, practice and then enter the pulpit on Sunday to “preach”. This is not preaching at all. When it is of God, it is exhortation. When it is not, it is vanity. Preaching, by contrast, is speaking the oracles of God under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, to the people He has assembled.
Richard told the story of how he learned to preach this way. As a young minister in Florida he had diligently worked and built up his congregation to several hundred attendees. Frankly, he was quite pleased with his work. One Sunday as he was breaking out his notes and about to begin to “preach” the Lord asked him:
“What are you doing?”
Richard responded something to the effect of, “What do you mean Lord? You know what I am doing? I am going to tell the people about you.”
The Lord responded, “I didn’t bring these people here to hear what you have to say, but rather what I have to say!”
So, that day, Richard tore up his notes before the congregation as he informed them of what the Lord had told him and proceeded to preach. The next week, when he arrived for service only one person showed up and that was the one person he had not wanted to show up. It was a young man with Down Syndrome. Richard, who was somewhat dismayed as you can imagine, asked the Lord what to do next and the Lord essentially told him to preach the Gospel and heal the sick. So that is what he did that day and when he prayed the young man was completely delivered of Down Syndrome and healed.
In my first two years as a disciple, I heard Richard preach one to two sermons a week. Each message was fresh, timely and frequently a direct response to my prayers. I also was given the opportunity, almost immediately, to preach under his watchful eye. I am sure those were somewhat uneven messages for the listeners, as I was learning, but the experience was invaluable to me. As Richard went on the road, I continued to preach regularly, under the tutelage of another minister in the ministry. Finally, in 1999, I had the opportunity to do some evangelistic work, which ultimately led to the establishment of a new fellowship in New Hampshire, initially at Scott and Gail Stevens home in Cornish. This was when I really got the opportunity to grow as I had a young congregation with great need and it was my responsibility, before the Lord, to minister to those needs. It was a hopeful time and the messages that the Lord had me preach were full of hope in what God could do by His power.
Shortly thereafter, I was also put in charge of the Vermont fellowship which had been floundering for some years. This was a very different situation. Here I had to work with a congregation, many of whom were my elders in the Lord, that had fallen. Complacency, doubt, selfishness and pride were the rule rather than humility, service, power and love. It was a daunting task and I had to preach many hard messages.
I remember calling Richard up at one time because it seemed that every week I was preaching hard and I wanted to preach something more upbeat. Richard’s response to me was “sometimes people need hard messages.” So I continued, until things broke. Once that happened, those who would go forward in the Lord came forth and those who would not dropped out. That was a very difficult time and one that continues to come back to my thoughts and prayers from time to time.
For more than twenty five years, Richard tweaked my preaching to make it more effective in the Lord. To this day, even after Richard’s passing, I listen to messages that he preached and learn. When I listen to or meditate upon Richard’s messages, I am frequently reminded at the efficiency with which Jesus preached. Jesus, in a few words, was able to say far more than me with many words. Richard did likewise. May the Lord yet accomplish the same in me.