The Circuit Racer vs. The Televangelist
One of the nation’s top televangelists was recently invited to preach in Baltimore, Maryland. His terms of entry were:
1. A limousine at the airport must pick him up.
2. That he must have $1,000 in spending money.
3. That he must be guaranteed at least $10,000 in offerings.
This same televangelist/pastor lives in a multi-million dollar mansion, eats at the finest restaurants, and wears the most expensive tailored suits. His writings and speaking engagements have brought in millions of dollars. He boasts of being a model of the prosperity message of our time. He pastors a mega church, appears on national and international television, is the author of numerous books, and attracts tens of thousands of people to hear him. To his credit, he is a powerful and imposing speaker. However, please compare this to the subsequent life and ministry of the great circuit racer, Francis Asbury in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
While still in his twenties, Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury left his forever home and family in England and came to the wilderness called America. He became an itinerant preacher/evangelist in a country with little infrastructure such as roads, decent housing, few hotels and restaurants, poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water, few medical professionals and a limited law enforcement. The nation had recently plunged into a violent war of independence against Asbury’s native land, England. The American frontier was also on fire with warfare between settlers and Native American tribes.
Asbury was not greeted upon arrival by a limo. He had to buy a horse on which he rode 8,000 miles a year for over 40 years. His financial reward was $60 a year, much of which was given or sent back to England to help his parents. He wore second-hand clothes, not custom-made suits. He had no pension, no insurance, no dental plan and no 401k. He did not set any fees for his ministry.
What he received, he often gave. He traveled on “roads” on which his horse sank several times knee-deep in mud. If there were no road, he would ride his horse up the steep, rocky slopes of the Appalachians to reach a pioneer community. Many times his feet and legs were bloody and bruised from the horrible journey. When he came to a river where there was no bridge or ferry, he swam across it with his horse. Many times he was nearly drowned by an angry, swollen stream. His “hotel” repeatedly stood on dirt floors in an overcrowded, rat-infested border shack. Often he slept in the woods, on a mountain ledge, or in a damp cave. Several days he traveled more than 60 miles without eating anything. The paths and roads he traveled were fraught with danger from murderers, thieves, wolves, bears, poisonous snakes, and roving bands of Native Americans with whom the borderers were at war.
If he encountered someone who needed a coat, food, or money, he would take what he had and give it to the person in need. Asbury researched the forgotten and hidden places of primitive America. He traveled from New England to the Midwest and the Deep South to spread the Gospel of Christ. When he met a sick person, he met their physical needs with the last medicine he had. He demanded nothing of others to enter into a community. The requests he made were of his own. Frequently, her body was shaken with pain, sickness, fever, hunger, and weakness. His physical being would cry out for rest and food. However, his spirit ruled over his body. When he was truly unable to travel, he rode a horse and rode for 8 hours or more through blinding snowstorms, torrential rains, or in blistering heat.
He too had been invited to Baltimore. In 1816 he was traveling by buggy through Virginia to attend the annual conference in Baltimore. However, he was dying. His last sermon was preached in Richmond. He had to be carried to the meeting room. He commented, “I am too weak to walk but not to preach. They set him on a little table and he ministered the Word for the last time. He made it as far as Spotsylvania twenty miles north of Richmond. His body was rapidly declining. He stopped Saturday at a friend’s house. Shortly before leaving this world, he was asked, “Do you think Jesus is precious?
Calling on his last strength, the great circuit driver raised both hands in victory. A few minutes later, he rested his head on a friend’s hand and slipped away quietly to be with the Lord. He had no mansion, land, or bank account. His net worth was what he wore on his body. He was buried in a borrowed grave.
When Asbury came to America, there were few Methodist believers and fewer preachers. By the end of his ministry, there were over 200,000 Methodist believers and nearly 8,000 ministers. It has affected the lives of thousands and thousands of people. He changed the very course of American history. Among his converts were poor farmers, merchants, governors of several states, frontiersmen, slaves, Native Americans, state Supreme Court justices, lawyers, doctors, housewives, children, young people and people from all walks of life. He gave everything he had. He wasn’t looking for anything for himself. His passion was to bring salvation and the Light of the Gospel to those who were in the darkness of sin. He loved a nation and made it his own even though he was not his native son.
Quite a contrast between the circuit runner and the televangelist!
One was selfless, the other selfish.
One was people-centered, the other ego-centered.
One was a kingdom builder, the other an empire builder.
One drew souls into the Kingdom of God; the other drew the masses into an arena.
One demanded of himself, the other demanded of others.
One gave freely, the other commanded a price.
One was a servant, the other a celebrity.
Hebrews 11:32-38 speaks of the true heroes of the faith: They were…” tortured, not accepting deliverance, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Still others were tried for teasing and beating, and for chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two…killed by the sword. They wandered in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented…they wandered in the deserts and the mountains, in the dens and caverns of the earth…of which the world was not worthy.
I pray that God will bring us back to the faith of our fathers and fulfill Jeremiah 3:15 and give us shepherds after his own heart…just like the beloved Francis Asbury, humble servant of God.
Michael Edds is the former senior pastor of Cross Pointe Church in Laurinburg. He is now employed at the Falcon Children’s Home in Falcon.