German Campers

11207282_10155616519030245_7811204734184909873_n

My wife and I were camping in Northern Ontario for five days, retreating from phone and emails. Our vacation was not going quite as planned. The weather was cold with a constant rain. We were given a traffic ticket for expired license plates and our trailer tire blew to shreds while driving into the park. Even with these holiday bumps, we were determined to focus on all the good that God has given us.
After settling in for two days, I called a tow truck company to help us change the tire on our trailer. An hour later, he came. As he was jacking up the trailer I noticed a new couple in the campsite beside us. They were attempting to build a campfire. It seemed like they had no idea on how to start it. The tow truck mechanic was busy, not needing my help, so I went over to introduce myself and see if they needed any wood. I was pushing my introverted side to be “10% more friendly.”
The couple was from Germany and had very little English to go on. Fortunately Helen, my wife, was walking over right behind me. She grew up with German in her house and could at least understand the language. As they talked in broken German/English, the couple pointed to the mechanic and asked if he knew how to fix heaters. Apparently their trailer’s heater was broken and they had a three week trip ahead of them in Northern Ontario without heat. We asked and discovered that the mechanic couldn’t fix it and my limited mechanical knowledge was useless.
While I was concluding from all of this that there was no solution, Helen got that look on her face, the one that tells me God is about to do something. She ran to our trailer and brought back our electric heater, explaining to the German couple that God had told her to give them ours to keep for their holiday. At least, she got the words out for God (Gott), love (liebe) and gift (geshenk). They were about to refuse when Helen insisted and started to pray for them. It was so cool to see Helen attempt to use every German word she knew in one prayer while the couple looked at each other in stunned gratitude.
They left the next day, driving further north. We drove into town and bought another heater that worked almost as well. As we drove, we prayed that they would understand the love of God through a couple of Canadians who helped in Jesus’ name. As we were driving back to our campsite, the thought occurred… If we didn’t have the flat tire, we would not have had the mechanic which prompted the question about fixing their heater, which produced the opportunity to love someone in Jesus name. The blown tire was the open door, the opportunity, the gift from God on our holiday!
Dear Jesus, help me to be aware of the opportunities to love others in your name, even in the middle of my own mess. Help me to see how some messes will soon be turned into your miracles of love.

Communion

Communion Pic I love communion. I think it reminds us all what is at the center of our lives! At my church we have the communion tables at the back and when people are ready, they go to the tables during the last four songs of our service. This last Sunday, we talked about communion and a young 20-something came in with the saddest look on his face. I welcomed him, but he barely looked up. This was his second week back to church. One of my staff members, Andrew, usually sits with his wife in the service, but a bunch of young people were sitting around her, so he was pushed to the back. He ended up behind this sad young man. After the message, the worship music began and Andrew received a “God-tap,” (which is when an idea or thought pops into your mind that might be from God). Actually, Andrew describes this particular God-tap as a “God-Grab,” which is a stronger version of the same thing! The thought that came to his mind was, “This young man will not take communion because he doesn’t think he is worthy.” The thought would not go away, so Andrew bargained with God, “I will wait until the last song to see if he goes back for communion.” The young man didn’t go back, but he did get up and walk to the restroom. By now, the feeling was so strong that Andrew followed him in. An act of bravery indeed! The guy was just sitting on a bench. He was hiding out. Andrew approached him and told him what he thought God was telling him. The guy’s eyes grew two sizes larger and nodded his head, that it was true. There, sitting on the benches in the guy’s restroom, Andrew discovered that the young man was a believer and that he thought God would never accept him back. Time was ticking away so Andrew quickly described God’s wonderful grace, and how these thoughts of being unforgiveable or too far-gone were actually lies from the evil one. Andrew led him out to the communion tables while the worship continued around them. That’s when I saw the two of them. It was almost like this young man was being led by the hand. Andrew beautifully prayed for him and gently served him communion. Through tears, the young man discovered that Jesus’ sacrifice covers all our sins and can continue to do so throughout our entire lives! Father, the evil one lies to us all, but that’s about all he can do! His lies keep us from drawing near to you. Lord, help me to discern your truth louder than any lie. Remind me to never stop drawing near to you!

The Money Tap

I have been a student for far too many years of my life. One evening, as I was working on yet another paper for school, I had an idea.

Nathan needs money.

Now this was not a voice, just a weird idea out of nowhere. Nathan played lead guitar in our worship band and he had broken a chord the night before. I thought, “Yah, he probably does need some money. He works at a coffee shop and his parents are missionaries.”

That was it. I placed my fingers on the computer keyboard to type some more. Another thought came.

I should do something about Nathan needing the money. I should give him some.

I knew if I start typing again on the keyboard, I would forget I ever had that weird idea out of nowhere. After I struggled over stopping my work, I eventually got up, found a card and wrote, “Hey Nathan, I think this may be from God.” I wrote a cheque for $100 and put it in an envelope. The hardest parts were trying to find his address and eventually driving to a mailbox to mail the thing. I got back to writing my paper hoping that it wouldn’t be too weird for him. The whole process took about 30 minutes.

Three days later, I received a phone call from Nathan’s mom. She thanked me for helping her son. I had to think for a while about what I had done… I forget these kinds of things. She told me that Nathan had been in a crisis of faith and was doubting that there was a God. As a test to see if God was real, he signed his coffee shop paycheque for $24.98 over to another missionary family. In way he was saying, “God, if you are real, show yourself!”

Nathan’s mom told me that he got my cheque for 4 times as much as he gave with the note “from God.” He was now beside his bed, on his knees, crying out to God for ever doubting Him.

That whole thing freaked me out just as much as it did Nathan. That idea was definitely from God, but it wasn’t a voice, it was only a quite thought. I was freaked out that I had come so close to not following through on the idea. I then had this mental picture of people crying out to God all over the world and God working through his body on earth, tapping shoulders, whispering, giving us ideas to give or to help. And I imagined a world of Christians watching T.V. and never acting on the ideas.

Father, I want to be one of your people who acts on every idea for good, whether I can be sure it comes from you or not. I just don’t want to miss one of them!

Passing Along the Verse

I used to be a youth pastor. I loved being a youth pastor. In my heart, I could have done it for another few decades. The pastors of the churches I was working for, however, had another idea. They wanted me to plant their youth groups into a church for all ages. I didn’t think it up, nor did I particularly want to do it. I began a year of prayer and inner turmoil over whether or not I should move forward with their crazy idea. During that year, someone from outside this group of pastors found out that the church plant was a possibility. Without talking to me or any of the other pastors, the man assumed I was doing this on my own. He then proceeded to send out messages to over 150 churches in the area that I was a “cult leader.” Don’t you love some church people! In response to the accusations against me, a set of meetings took place which culminated in one huge public meeting where all six pastors told their people that it was, in fact, their idea to plant a church. As a result of this turmoil, I was deeply hurt and didn’t know how to react to the person who was disparaging my name far and wide. I dealt with the stress by developing an ulcer. Maybe not the most godly, worry-free response, but I am still growing in my faith. One evening, during this season in my life, I was finishing up supper when the phone rang. It was a woman named Jane. She was at a retreat I had spoken at over a year earlier. It was fun to talk to her again. She had no idea what I was going through, but after some small talk, she admitted that there was a reason for her call. She was praying for several people and then I came to her mind, so she prayed for me. Then a verse came to her mind. She took the risk to phone me up and shared it with me. She said wasn’t sure if it would help but she read this over the phone, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:11-12).” I don’t think I have ever cried that much while holding onto a phone. “Just what I needed” would be a massive understatement. Decades later, I still wonder at small miracles like these. I wonder at the depths of meanness of Christians to each other. I wonder at the heart of God who saw and cared enough to move one of His servants. I wonder at Jane’s risk-taking to phone up and share a verse with someone, even though she wasn’t sure. I just wonder at the love and care of God to set His love in motion through ordinary people. God fill me with prayers for other people. Help me to be “alert” in my prayers (Col 4:2) to your ideas and give me the boldness to risk sharing your heart.

God-Incident

I was on vacation and traveling up north with my trailer in tow. About half way up, I heard the brakes start to squeal on my vehicle. After unhooking at the campsite, I drove my truck into town to see how bad the brakes were. They were bad. So bad, they didn’t have all the parts there to fix them. I had to get my truck back to the shop at eight in the morning, and I couldn’t be late because their day was filled with other appointments.

The next morning, I got up with loads of time and even enjoyed a leisurely cup of tea. Then I started to look for my keys. I couldn’t find them! I checked through my clothes. I checked through the truck. I rearranged the whole contents of the backseat to see if the keys were there. I was in panic mode now; I couldn’t miss this appointment! With five minutes to spare, I finally found my keys in my bathing suit. What in the world were they doing there!? I drove like mad down to the shop and made it just in time. Whew!!

Before handing off the truck to the mechanics at the shop, I looked in the back seat for my journal and a book I was planning to read while I waited. They weren’t there. I was sure I put them there! Then it dawned on me. I had put my journal and my book on the roof of my truck when I was looking for my keys. They were somewhere between the campsite and the auto shop. My heart was punctured. I loved my journal and didn’t want to lose it. With a sigh of resignation, I realized there was nothing I could do, so I went to the coffee shop to look through my emails.

After about fifteen minutes at the coffee shop, my computer notified me that I’d received an e-mail from an unfamiliar email address. It read, “This morning I was having one of the worst mornings of my life. I was leaving my home for my sister’s place and strangely enough there were two books on the end of my driveway. A book about God and your journal with your email address in it.” Someone had found my two books, not in a ditch, not on the road, not in the forest but on the end of her driveway during the worst day of her life!!

I emailed her back and she drove to the coffee shop to give the books back to me. We talked in the parking lot and I discovered that she was a believer and she had just “forgot to trust God.” I knelt down by her car window to talk to her. She was holding a little dog in her arms and began to tear up as she was reminded that God had seen her and that he cared. I held her hand and prayed with her as her little dog licked my face. She finally drove off and I eventually sent her a copy of the book I was reading, but the wonder of the hand of God still rings in my heart. God cared so much about one of his children—and so desired that she remember him again—that he had his absent-minded servant drive off with the very two books on the roof that were needed.

Thank you God for caring more than we can possibly fathom and is involved in our days more than we can possibly notice!

My First Open Door

door-opening

I forget where I first heard the verse, but I certainly remember the first time I experienced it. Somewhere in my mid-teen years, I took Col. 4:2 literally. “Pray for me too that God may open a door for his message.” From this verse, I understood that I could ask God to open a “door of opportunity,” an opportunity to naturally share my faith. It was as if God was doing two things: drawing the world to himself and asking for volunteers to share his message. Those who ask God for open doors are bumped up beside those who are actively searching.

It was during a “spare period” in high school where I first asked God to open a door. We were playing cards to kill the time and I was overwhelmed with the idea that I had never really shared my faith. So I asked under my breath, waited, then when nothing happened so I continued to play cards.

About 20 minutes later a student came into the cafeteria and shouted my name. “Dave Overholt!”

I had no idea who he was, but I smiled and waved. He came running over told me his name was Tom and talked about us being best friends. After trying to fake it for awhile I finally admitted, “Where do I know you from?”

“We were best friends in kindergarten!” he smiled back.

Wow, this guy needed a friend! He went on to tell me he had moved to a city four hours away when he was young and His family had just moved back. This was his first day at his new school and I “happened” to be the first person he met. Weird coincident!

Just to be nice I asked him what he was into. He replied, “I am into history and religion. I am actually writing up my own religion. Are you into Religion Dave?”

Dang! This was it! I asked God to open a door to share my faith and he did! But I wasn’t ready! I didn’t know what to say!! My heart was racing, I started to sweat. In what seemed to me to be ten minutes of staring at him, I replied, “Ya I am into religion.” My first time of witnessing!!

“Great, Dave,” He continued, “Do you want to come over to my house and we can talk all about it?

We got together, I brought over a booklet called, “More Than a Carpenter,” and we talked into the night about his background, his weird mixing of religions and Jesus. Three months later Tom accepted Christ as his Saviour. From then on I was hooked. I understood that partnering with the Spirit of God to share my faith was a whole lot easier than anything I had ever imagined, and it actually helped people into the kingdom.

The spiritual life is so much easier in partnership with the Holy Spirit. I have been praying this simple prayer for decades now, “Father could you please open a door of opportunity for me to share my faith,” and the adventures continue.

Close Flying

I was on a small plane from St. John’s to Gander in Newfoundland. The flight was only about an hour and there was only one row on either side of the plane. I always tell people to be 10% more friendly which, when you’re an introvert, is only easy when you are literally rubbing shoulders with a stranger. Ten minutes into the fight, I decided I would start. The man next to me was on the other side of middle age, with torn plaid dirty jeans and a worn hat.
“So, why are you heading up to Gander?” I ventured.
“I live in Gander, but work in the Alberta oil fields. I only get home once a month.”
His reflections were bitter sweet as he told me that he had to provide for his family and that he hated to be away from them. So I plugged him with questions about the oil fields, his family and travel. Before long, the woman behind his seat joined in the conversation.
She was a similar age, but wearing a white pantsuit, styled hair and a purchased tan. I asked her the same question. She was a wife of an “important” physician. Her job was to travel the world and review five start hotels̶—these were two very different people.
I tried to be an equal opportunity conversationalist and asked questions about the hotels, and how she got this “tough job.” Almost 30 minutes later during another lull in the conversation, the woman reciprocated.
“So why are you flying to Gander?” She asked.
Ok, this is what I had been praying for—an opportunity to share the hope of Jesus that is in me!
“I am speaking to some Salvation Army teenagers.”
She zeroed in very business-like and asked, “So give me the core of your message in one sentence.”
That caught me off guard. I knew this was an opportunity to share my faith, but didn’t expect it to be that blatant! I train others to give a response in one sentence. Wow, what was my sentence again?
“People can’t make it in life without hope; hope is found in Jesus.”
I know that was technically two sentences, but it got the idea across. For the next fifteen minutes the three of us talked about faith, sick spouses and old Sunday school experiences. The flight ended in a prayer for the oil worker’s wife who has inoperable brain cancer.
I never thought I would have to articulate my faith in one sentence, having one minute to think about it. There is so much to this love relationship with Jesus. It is difficult to put into words, let alone one sentence, maybe because he is not a slogan. He is a person, who is just plain wonderful to know. Father, thank you for using “10% more friendly” moments; give me more opportunities to explain the inexplicable.

Ready or Not

Image

I just finished teaching a workshop at a large youth event and the teens were lined up in order to talk. There were only 15 minutes between my workshop and the next one in the same room. I am friendly, but I kept my answers short. I want always to honor the next presenter, plus I had another workshop to teach one room over. On this particular occasion, however, I eyeballed a young man who was off to one side and “kind-of” in line. He was restless, deep in thought. It was easy to see that he was struggling with something. I had five minutes left so I gently pushed by the last couple in line saying, “I need to talk to this young man.”

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“Well… It’s about God and stuff.” was his evasive reply.

I had less than 5 minutes so I sat down and focused on him. I thought I would start by finding out where he was at.

“Do you know God in a personal way, or are you on the way still?”

His name was Wes and he seemed to be relieved that I gave him the words for his thoughts, “I am on the way to God.”

“Wow, so cool! You are talking to the right person. What is holding you back from God? Is there a question or a problem?”

He thought for a few seconds then said, “I guess nothing is really holding me back.”

“So would you like to know God as your heavenly father and accept Christ’s gift of salvation now?” I ventured.

“Ya, I really would!”

Three minutes left on the clock, voices all around us and the next seminar leader was setting up his notes. I knew I would be late for the people sitting in my next workshop. This was going to have to be a one verse deal.

“Let me show you in the Bible how you can become a child of the king. It says here in Romans 10:9, If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

I explained to him that it was as easy as ABC. Admit that you are a sinner, that you have done things that have built a wall between you and God. Believe that Jesus died and rose again to remove that sin. Commit your life to Him, surrendering the control of your life to Jesus. We prayed out loud together in faith. Wes looked up with the biggest smile on his face and said, “That was awesome!”

All I could say to him before I was whisked off to my next workshop was, “Welcome home Wes!”

Paul writes to his protégé in 1 Timothy 4:2 to be ready “in season and out of season.” In other words, God will bring people for you to help when you are in a good season—when you are prepared, studied and filled up. God will bring moments of ministry when you are not in a good season—when you are not prepared, not studied and, to be honest, not even wanting to talk to people. We don’t get to pick when the open doors come to us; we just have to be always ready when the door comes, in season and out of season.

Father, as your servant let me be alert to your every lead.  I give you permission to give me assignments when I don’t feel ready, capable, or even in a good mood. Lord, I will serve you in season and out of season.

 

Potty Prayer

Men

I teach at a Seminary and break time usually means busy restroom time. The men’s restroom on the main floor is small, one toilet and two urinals. Cozy. As I was finishing up another man cozied up next to me and started to use the facility. Now, there is an unwritten man-law that you don’t do that. You don’t pee side-by-side if there are other possibilities. So I was a bit unsettled. But not as much as when he started up a conversation, mid-pee! That’s just weird. By his accent I could tell he was from another country, so I was polite. As I was washing up I asked if he was a student. He was and he was from Egypt. I continued the conversation and said I understood that Christians were being persecuted there. He told me how horrible the murders were and that he was a refuge from the violence. His son and wife were still in Egypt and needed to get out.

He had just shared something very personal and filled with need. The nice Canadian part of me wanted to say, “Wow, that’s too bad, I will pray for that.” The truth of the matter is that I would feel for him but not pray. I listened the Spirit instead. I placed my newly washed hand on his shoulder and prayed that his wife and son would be set free. I prayed with all my heart for a man I had known only five minutes in a washroom, because we were brothers. He thanked me and we both moved on to our respective classes. I called after him as he was walking away that I would pray for his family when I saw him in the hallway, and I did.

Three weeks later my Egyptian friend comes running over to me. He yells a bit too loud that he has been looking for me for weeks now.

“How is your family?” I ask.

“They are free!! They are here in Canada now!”

“Wow, that was fast.”

He then looked intently at me so I would get the import of his words. “They got their visas three weeks ago. They stayed late into the night at the Canadian consulate to be able to receive their visas. I checked the time and the very time we were praying in the washroom, their visas were approved!” He gives me a huge hug, as if I had something to do with their release.

We part ways and I am left thinking. God could have awarded them their visas at any time. Yet, The Almighty wanted to show my Egyptian friend that it was a miracle – it was God’s doing in God’s timing. A prayer in a washroom! I never find stopping and praying right away with people super easy. They are usually surprised. They wonder if they are supposed to pray too. However, I do it again and again. I pray right away.

I think I do this because I actually pray instead of intending to pray. Plus, I model the ease of talking to my Lord and the memory of the actual prayer lasts in people’s minds. God often wants to show me he is very involved in the timing of “coincidences.” It is for his glory.

High Risk at the Library

20120427library1

High Risk in a Library
I was teaching a course at my city’s very-secular university, “McMaster,” and I had stayed late to talk to some students from my class. I still had to check some books out of the library’s fifth floor so I made the trek across the road to the library. I found my books quickly and started to head back. As I walked past the stacks of books, I saw a young female student searching the shelves. I don’t know why she caught my attention, but as I walked past all I could think about was that I should talk with her. I am not that bold, especially with a stranger, especially with a stranger of the opposite sex. I kept on walking, now down the stairs, but continued to feel bothered.
I am living this experiment of listening to that still-small-voice and responding to it as if it were God. After all, if the idea is for good, it is worth the risk! God, was this idea yours or mine? I walked back up the stairs, then started to pace. How was I going to start a conversation and make it not weird?
“Hey, it looks like you are looking for a book.” NO!
“I walked by and you caught my eye.” Really NO!
“I think God wants me to talk to you.” Sigh!
When I got back to the stack of books, she was still looking, even more desperately. So, heart pounding, I approached her…
“Hey, it looks like you are looking for a book” (inward grimace)! She turned, looking surprised, and replied,
“Yes, I am looking for a Bible.”
“Is this for a class, or for you?” I ventured.
“I just arrived from Korea and most of my things are still coming here, including my Bible. They are teaching me things I don’t agree with and I just need to find a Bible!”
“Well, I am a pastor and I think God just tapped me on the shoulder to talk with you.”
She crumpled to the ground in tears of joy then told me about the ideas she didn’t agree with. I reached around the corner and found a Bible. We opened the Scriptures on the floor of a very secular university and read the refreshment from the pages. What a rush!!
A couple things I notice about God’s leading… The adventures he sends us on are often not easy, and they always involve faith. Speaking to a stranger in that situation was difficult; it was not my normal! I guess this is a way to recognize God’s still-small-voice. It’s not something I would normally think to do.
Obedience to God’s taps on the shoulder usually takes faith, sometimes scary, risky faith. Is faith really faith without some unknown, without some risk? Hebrews chapter 11 is a chapter of risk-takers: people leaving homes, building boats, hiding spies. Can I experience the adventure without taking the risk?
God, give me your strength to boldly follow those risky promptings of Your Spirit!