September 1, 2012. The Redhawks of Miami University (not “The U”) are visiting Columbus to face off against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes. The Tressel era is over. Memories of Appalachian State vs. That Team Up North swirl in my head. Hopefully, we’ll be ready to play.
But I had a different mission today than to watch football. Upon the urging of Bill Adams from Sports Fan Outreach International, and as a representative of Jesus Christ and Berean Baptist Church, I led a team of evangelists to the campus of The Ohio State University. After some back and forth, we finally agreed upon a time. Working around work schedules, we decided we’d arrive around 2:45, about 30 minutes before we’d expect the game to end, and stay until 6 or 7 to preach the gospel, distribute tracts and engage in one on one conversations.
My report below is intended to show you the surpassing power and love of God. His sovereignty, goodness and mercy were made manifest today in ways that are exceedingly and abundantly more than we could’ve hoped. Bear with my details and general wordiness, and try to enjoy the story in spite of my poor ability to transcribe it!
I am a firm believer that when you set out to serve the Lord you will face spiritual opposition. That is, you will encounter forces of the demonic who will try to thwart the mission. As difficult as this often makes life, I’ve found comfort in the opposition. I actually feel somewhat empowered in a sense, with an innate knowledge that the opposition means I’m clearly on the Lord’s side, the side I want to be on! Nevertheless, the point of the story is not to explain how I or we overcame any spiritual forces, but about how incapable I am against them. It is the power of Christ that overcomes spiritual wickedness; and God put that on display today, if only to humble us.
The story starts August 31st (Friday night). The plans are set. I’ll be picking up Matt at 1:30, meeting at Jerry’s; Jerry will pick up Fred and take us to campus. On my way home from coaching football, I have car trouble. I shut it off at a stoplight to restart it, it makes weird noise, but restarts. My daughter, Bailey, and I arrive home, but not before smelling smoke. We thought the car would explode!
So I wake up Saturday morning and my car won’t start…it won’t even turn over! Bless be the name of the Lord that allowed me to make it to my driveway the night before right before my car basically died. A call to AAA and a tow later, and I’m without a vehicle. I let Matt know he can drive. Sounds ok…except Matt’s life has been flipped upside down by family obligations last minute. Matt juggles it all and tells us he’ll meet us on campus. Jerry agrees to pick everyone else up. Joe, from Mansfield, is still on his way. All will be well, we suppose. I call the pastor to send out a prayer request to our congregation which he does right away. Then I call Tom Wilson, one of our deacons, and he prays for us and commits to continue. I feel like the Lord has already displayed His mighty hand! Even through the misfires, we are on track! Praise God. He has kept us faithful through all this and has enabled us to change our plans.
Now I realize I do not own a stool to stand on for preaching. So I find one I like online and call a friend to pick it up for me (remember, I’m without a car). Instead, Mary offers to simply bring me a stool which I can borrow! Now I have all the equipment I need; a stool, charged amp and speaker, microphone with new batteries, thousands of tracts, 27 bibles with our church information stuffed inside, a cooler of snacks and water, my personal bible and a Cleveland Browns poncho – excellent for covering boxes of bibles and our cordless speaker in the event of rain (and one really good looking combo of brown and orange as well).
The fellowship was sweet, as usual, as we made our way to Lane and Olentangy River Rd. As soon as we got there, Fred, Joe and I started passing out tracts. I immediately got into a great conversation with two young men from Lancaster who were raised Catholic, but understood the message of the gospel of grace. If I remember correctly, their names were Kyle and Ethan (sorry if you are reading this and I just got your name wrong!). If you are a brother or sister in Christ, please take a moment to pray for these two men.
— Michael A. Coughlin (@ABereanOne) September 2, 2012
I was sorta waiting for Matt to begin preaching; not sure what was holding him up. I finally stepped on the stool to preach. Very few people stopped to listen, but it was a stoplight scenario, so there were regularly 100 or so people waiting for a green light every 3 minutes for a good half an hour. Fred said he overheard someone say, “those guys were at the Super Bowl, too.” That made me chuckle!
Well, as usual, we met some “Christians.” One self-identified Christian girl gave me the middle finger and yelled F#6% you at me as I preached. I used this as an opportunity to talk about how when a person becomes a Christian, they begin to love righteousness and hate wickedness. I thank God for people like this young lady. She unwittingly drew attention to me and to my message of Christ’s glory, while embarrassing herself in her drunkenness. I remember when Ray Comfort said the best thing that can ever happen to you is a heckler; it makes sense to me now after some time preaching.
We spent a couple hours. The other major highlight was when the guys who drive the bicycles with the carriages on the back took exception to my message. They began to yell things about Satan and generally chuckle and snicker. They eventually got really close to me and cranked up some heavy metal. Again, thanks to God for bringing folks that close in order to draw attention to the message of grace and hope and forgiveness of sins which was being preached. I really enjoyed them, although I called them out a couple times as illustrations. I think they ended up pretty embarrassed by their own foolish behavior. I genuinely told them I wanted them to be forgiven of all their sins, including their attempt to thwart the preaching of God’s Word. May God grant them repentance (that’s the only way anyone exercises it).
Finally, Fred left to go home, and Joe and I still hadn’t found Matt! It turns out he was still stuck in traffic almost 2.5 hours later! Joe and I ambled to Lane and High, where there would be more foot traffic. By 6ish, Matt finally met us. Admitting he was parked illegally, we brainstormed and found a place where he could move his car. We recommended that he go to a gas station and buy a drink; Matt left. As Joe and I waited for him, I noticed Matt kept patting his pockets from across the street. I ran over to find he’d lost his wallet! He had just bought gas. We stopped and prayed. I prayed that the Lord would return Matt’s wallet to him, even if it was in a miraculous way. After a thorough car search, Matt left to go back to where he had bought gas an hour earlier.
As I made my way back across the street, I noticed my cellphone was missing! This was amazing. I had just finished speaking to Joe about spiritual warfare, and now it seemed like somehow someone was trying to prevent us from evangelizing! I went to where Matt had parked his car to look for his wallet and then look for my phone. I found neither. Eventually, I just went back to Joe and started preaching again. There were some people who had questions, and some people who just wanted to heckle, including a really inquisitive lady named Juliana. While discussing the gospel with a couple of young men, Matt walked up and handed me my phone. Praise God, I had just left it in his car when I searched for his wallet!
Matt had checked the gas station and it wasn’t there. So Matt, not realizing I had already checked, went back to his ‘illegal’ parking spot to check for his wallet. As he walked around hoping to find it, a man approached him covered head to toe in Michigan garb. “Are you Matt?” he asked. Matt instantly knew the guy must have had his wallet. What a miracle! Had Matt not planned to buy a drink, he may not have noticed his wallet was missing, and had I kept my cellphone, I may have let him know not to check the parking lot where he ultimately ran into this guy! Matt said, “We gotta root for Michigan tonight!”
Now, having seen the Lord answer prayer and overcome all these things on our behalf, we continued to evangelize for a bit. We got into a long conversation with Juliana who had much disagreement with the bible. Please pray she will have her eyes opened to God’s truth. She was enjoyable to talk to, but I had the feeling at the time and even more so now, that she was just a stall tactic. She occupied our time for a while…and I’m not sure the conversation was entirely fruitful. It actually ended with her saying “Shame on you,” to us and returning the bible we had given her that she had put in her bag.
One other quick anecdote: One young man told us absolute truth did not exist. I asked him if that was absolutely true. He said, “Yes.” When confronted by the fact that his statement was self-refuting, he just sorta got annoyed and walked away. It bothered him that we confessed to have the only message of truth about God.
All in all, it was an excellent day. I still do not have a car until Tuesday, but Matt’s nightmare ride around campus and lost wallet fiasco are all history. Joe was encouraged and encouraged us; and Fred…well Fred’s always just happy to go out. I trust the Lord did wonderful things in the hearts of men and women today. I hope he allows us to see some of those things in this life.
If you are still reading, you are a dear person. I suspect I’d have stopped by now, citing the unnecessary details and general wordiness of the author!