Back on Track
The John Osborne Story
[written by] John Osborne with Ken Wade
- 160 pages, paperback
- ISBN 0-8163-1645-7
- US$10.99, Cdn$15.99
Zeal, hate, and videotape
An academy principal once told John Osborne's parents, "By the time John is twenty-one, he's either going to be in the state penitentiary or he's going to be a dynamic, powerful man of God."
He was right.
John did become a gifted evangelist and a zealous defender of truth. Extraordinary leadership skills and a dogged determination to follow what is right caused John to rapidly ascend the heights of ministerial success as a Seventh-day Adventist minister. But those same headstrong characteristics would eventually cause him to collide with church leaders over the future of his successful television ministry. The pain of that collision landed John in a penitentiary of bitterness where zeal for the gospel turned into angry criticism of the church he once loved.
Back on Track is the incredible story of John Osborne--his rise to prominence, his fall into critical ministries, and his reconciliation with the church he nearly called "Babylon." It is a story of pride, rebellion, spiritual anarchy, and the dangerous mindset of those caught up in the "historic" Seventh-day Adventist movement. In these pages John candidly discusses what really happened to his Prophecy Countdown ministry. How he has faced his own problems, coped with criticism and condemnation, admitted his own guilt, and asked to be forgiven by God and man.
Back on Track contains an important message on delusion and reconciliation that will inspire you to study the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy with renewed fervor. It will also help you survive and rise above your own struggles with bitterness and the flaws of God's children.
The hot Florida sun wedged its way under the wide overhang on the front of the Rolling Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church where I was pacing back and forth, troubling over one of the most serious questions I had ever faced. I realized that my whole future hung in the balance as I pondered how to respond to the things I had just read. I glanced at my watch for what must have been the tenth time. It reassured me that it was indeed nearly four p.m. on April 3, 1995. I continued beating against my leg the small book with a pink cover that I held in my right hand.
What was taking Dianne so long? It had been nearly twenty minutes since I'd called her and told her I needed her to come pick me up as soon as possible.
Scott DesIslet, our video production director, came down the steps out of the truck we called Caleb--the forty-foot, full-featured video production unit that we used for producing programs to uplink to satellite. He turned and locked the door. Both Caleb and his counterpart, Joshua, were still parked there on that Monday afternoon because we had used them over the weekend to uplink our church services to satellite television so that people in home churches all over the country could join in and hear my sermon live. Joshua was the name we had given to our mobile C-Band satellite uplink. These two trucks, named after the faithful spies who went into Canaan and brought back a faith-filled report to the Israelites, were an important part of our mission to broadcast truth to all the world.
"You OK?" Scott asked when he noticed I was still waiting for a ride. "I could take you home, if you want."
"No, I'll be all right. Dianne will be here any minute, I'm sure," I responded. "Somebody probably stopped her to ask a question as she was leaving."
"Yeah, probably so," Scott said. He paused and looked down the street as though looking would bring Dianne sooner. "You sure you're going to be all right? I mean, if you're not feeling good . . ."
"I'll be fine till she gets here--look, here she comes now," I said. A black Acura had just turned off the highway, and I could see Dianne inside. Scott got into his car as she drove up.
I went around to the passenger side. My wife does most of the driving for our family when our son Wesley isn't with us. I tell people I gave up driving years ago because I just don't have the personality for it. I'm a Peter, if you know what I mean--I tend to react the way Jesus' disciple Peter did--quick, and without always thinking things through before taking action. That can be downright dangerous behind the wheel!
I put my briefcase in the back seat and sat down beside Dianne with the little book in my hand.
"Are you O K?" Dianne asked, a worried look on her face. "I thought you were going to stay here all afternoon editing."
"Honey, you've got to read this book, and you've got to read it now," was all I said in response.
"OK," she said, sounding puzzled.
"I mean, I know you've probably read it before. It's mostly selections from Testimonies to Ministers. But you've got to read it again, right now, in the context of what we're doing right now, and what we're planning to do next week."
"Let's go home and read it together," she said, putting the car into gear.
On the fifteen-minute drive home, I paged through the book and read sections to her. "Listen to these words God's servant addressed to a Brother S.," I said, and read a passage. "Do you see it? Those words are written to me, they're written about me! God's last-day messenger was talking about what would happen in the future, and she predicted that men would come in the future and do just exactly what I have been doing--do just exactly what we're planning to do in a big way next week! But listen to what she says about those men!"
I read passage after passage while Dianne drove in silence. By the time the garage door at our house rolled open to let us in, she was deeply troubled.
We went inside without even checking the mail and sat down on the couch in our bedroom. We continued to scan through the little book, stopping occasionally to read a paragraph out loud. With each passing moment it became clearer to us that we had been following a wrong path. That we needed a course correction.
Finally I sank down on my knees beside the couch, laying my head on my arms, and sobbed out a question to God. "What have I done, Lord? Oh my Lord, what have I done?"
We prayed and wept and read together for hours. Over and over we asked the question, "What have we done?" and then we knew we had to face the next question: "What are we going to do now?"
The little book with the pink cover was titled The Remnant Church. It was a book I had read before, but under different circumstances. In fact, I could recall preaching whole sermons in which I dealt with passages from that book, instructing people on how to respond to its message. The book is a compilation made in 1950 from the writings of Ellen G. White. For years I had rationalized away these powerful truths when people had shared its message with me. Rationalization was the only way I could deal with a message that ran so contrary to the course I was following. Having reasoned my way around the book, I suppose I had put it out of my mind.
Until this day.
I had gone into Caleb that afternoon, intent on working with my staff to edit a new set of videos that we planned to release soon. While the others got the equipment ready, I sat down on the producer's couch and looked around for something to read. How that little book got placed on the table is a mystery to this day. No one can remember bringing it into the truck. But for some reason it was sitting there, and I picked it up. I recognized it immediately, and I knew what its message was without reading. Oh well, I might as well read it anyhow, I thought. It's good to bone up every once in a while on the arguments the enemy is using.
My friends tell me I can be quite arrogant sometimes, and I think that's the way I felt as I began reading. I'd been over this ground before and just needed to refresh my memory, especially in light of what we were planning to do the following week. I could be sure that many people would be quoting The Remnant Church to me once we proclaimed that the organized church had become Babylon and issued our official call for all true and faithful Seventh-day Adventists to leave the mainline denomination and to join with us as God's remnant for the last days.
But my arrogant attitude didn't last long. On page 23 I read:
Four pages later, these words heightened my sense of uneasiness:
For years I have borne my testimony to the effect that when any arise claiming to have great light, and yet advocating the tearing down of that which the Lord through his human agents has been building up, they are greatly deceived, and are not working along the lines where Christ is working. Those who assert that the Seventh-day Adventist churches constitute Babylon, or any part of Babylon, might better stay at home.
Statement after statement seemed to leap off the page at me, mocking my self-satisfied security, forcing me to reconsider what I believed and what I had been teaching others.
God has a people in which all heaven is interested, and they are the one object on earth dear to the heart of God. Let everyone who reads these words give them thorough consideration, for in the name of Jesus I would press them home upon every soul. When anyone arises, either among us or outside of us, who is burdened with a message which declares that the people of God are numbered with Babylon, and claims that the loud cry is a call to come out of her, you may know that he is not bearing the message of truth. Receive him not, nor bid him Godspeed; for God has not spoken by him, neither has He given a message to him, but he has run before he was sent.
"OK, I think we're ready to start," Scott, the director, said, interrupting my thoughts. "You ready, Pastor John?"
It was as though his words had yanked me back from another world. I had become so engrossed in what I was reading I'd forgotten where I was.
I stared at Scott blankly for a moment and almost launched into a flood of words about what I had just read, but I hesitated. No, this was something that needed more study before I shared it with my staff. "You know, Scott, I'm not feeling all that great today. I won't be able to do any editing. Let's call it a day. I think I'm going to call Dianne and have her come pick me up and take me home."
I'm sure my sudden change of plans took my editing crew by surprise. They're used to seeing me come running in to work on a project, immerse myself in it, and keep working on it late into the evening, hardly stopping even to eat. Sending them home in the middle of the afternoon when there was work to be done--that just wasn't like me. They must have sensed that either I was feeling really sick or that something was bothering me pretty bad.
What they sensed was certainly right. I was feeling sick, and something was bothering me a lot. I had a reputation the world over as a leader among the independent, "historic" Seventh-day Adventist ministries that are often referred to by conference leadership as "critical ministries." And I was one of the most outspoken critics of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, particularly the General Conference. Many times I had stared into a video camera and addressed the General Conference leadership. "How can you allow these things to go on and not follow the counsel of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy?" I would loudly proclaim, shaking my finger at whoever might be watching. Copies of those programs went out to church members all over the world, and thousands of phone calls, letters, and donations flowed in from people who echoed my sentiments. Our ministry, called Prophecy Countdown, operated on a $3 million annual budget, much of it donated by people who had been mistreated or who were alarmed over things going on in their local churches or what they felt to be the lowering of standards--people that perhaps, too, had a seed of bitterness because of the way they had been treated.
"What are we going to do?" Dianne asked, late that night. "Oh, what are we going to do?"
Dianne is a very strong woman in many ways. She has been the president of our organization for more than ten years, supervising the work of more than fifty employees and hundreds of volunteers. She has been instrumental in helping to chart our course through mammoth projects such as starting our own nationwide satellite television network and launching a global shortwave radio ministry. As we initiated each project, she was at my side, tending to details and doing the organizational work that turned our dreams into reality.
I didn't have an answer. All through the night we prayed and studied and shed tears together. There were so many things to consider. We stood at the head of a ten-million-dollar organization that in just ten years had grown from nothing to the point where we now had 10,000 people who were supporting us. We had been instrumental in leading these people, plus countless thousands of others, into deeper study of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Many commented that they saw me as a sort of John the Baptist or a Jeremiah--who wasn't afraid to stand up and say what needed to be said and let the chips fall where they may.
At this very moment our followers were perched, as it were, on the edge of a great precipice. Excitement had been building in the ranks for months, as I preached sermon series such as "The Mark of the Beast for Seventh-day Adventists" and "The Abomination of Desolation for Seventh-day Adventists." These sermons were not broadcast over our satellite network or radio, but we sold thousands of tapes to Seventh-day Adventists. With each series I had been edging closer and closer to the moment I sensed had to come soon--the time when I would proclaim that the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists had become part of Babylon and that it was time for God's faithful remnant to come out of the organization and join with us as part of the true, historic Seventh-day Adventist Movement. I had convinced myself that this was the message that needed to be proclaimed and that our ministry was part of the original, historic Seventh-day Adventist organization. I was equally sure that God had called me to be the one to proclaim the message and to lead His people out of Babylon and back into God's original Seventh-day Adventist organization.
I picked up the book and read it again:
Dear Brother S.:
Brother S. is me! I had to admit it. From what I read, I understood that more than a hundred years ago, God had warned Ellen White that in the end time, men would arise with the precise message I was preaching.
I address to you a few lines. I am not in harmony with the position that you have taken, for I have been shown by the Lord that just such positions will be taken by those who are in error. Paul has given us warning to this effect: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils."
My brother, I learn that you are taking the position that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is Babylon, and that all that would be saved must come out of her. You are not the only man the devil has deceived in this matter. For the last forty years, one man after another has arisen, claiming that the Lord has sent him with the same message; but let me tell you, as I have told them, that this message you are proclaiming is one of the satanic delusions designed to create confusion among the churches (40, 41).
We had spent the night praying and studying. Now it was beginning to grow light outside. "What are we going to tell our staff?" Dianne asked.
"We have to tell them what we've come to realize," I said.
"What about the camp meeting next week?"
Next week! We planned to drive Caleb and Joshua up to Pennsylvania the following week for a camp meeting. Five other independent ministries were going to join with us there, and we had already agreed and announced that this camp meeting was to be the official calling out--the time when we would announce to the church that we had no choice but to issue a loud cry, calling people to leave the Seventh-day Adventist denomination and join us as Historic Seventh-day Adventists.
We would have to change our agenda. We would have to talk to the other leaders and try to persuade them how wrong we had been. I knew I had no choice. I could never continue down a path that I didn't believe in. Ever since I accepted God's call to public evangelism, truth and following what is right have been the most important things in my life. I couldn't change that now. But how had I gotten myself into such a mess? What had brought us to this terrible point where we had to admit that we had been championing a cause 180 degrees off course from where we now knew the Lord wanted us to be?
Only time would tell whether the others who had joined with us on this course would see the light and be willing to change directions with us.