How God Prepared me to Trust Him

The Problem
As a Dutch boy, I was proud of being Dutch and our dike-building engineering abilities. By the time I was in Grade Nine in Canada, the Dutch had turned 6,800 square miles (4.5 million acres) of sea-bottom into farmland. Here’s a comparison with Canada: Each homesteader was granted 160 acres of land. The amount reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch would have been enough for 27,200 pioneer families’ homesteads. I should have had plenty of that high self-esteem for which the Dutch are famous. But I didn’t. My classmates often called me Dummy, and I felt that they were right.

I was always the last to be chosen on a sports team. I sucked at carpentry-shop, and was worse in arithmetic. I especially hated being called to the blackboard to solve an arithmetic problem in front of everyone. I always made mistakes, and everyone laughed at me.

I believed in God in a general way. But I had no close relationship with Him. I always felt guilty, either for things I should have done and didn’t do or for something I had done that I shouldn’t have done. So, even when I occasionally prayed that I would feel better about myself, I didn’t expect Him to do much for me. And then, one day, He did.

What I Didn’t Know
I knew all the things I wasn’t good at. But I didn’t realize that God had been preparing me for years to be good at something. He had helped me to develop a valuable skill with words—and I didn’t know it.

Growing up in Holland, I biked to the library every Wednesday to borrow two or three books to read that week. I was twelve years old when we left Holland, and I had probably read 500 books. In the two years in Canada, I read library books in the way fire reads kindling.

The Story
Then came the day in Grade Nine English class when the teacher taught us how to write a letter. I listened with half an ear because I had written lots of letters to friends in Holland, and besides, I had a book open on my lap and was engrossed in a gripping story. The teacher said, “Alright, everyone, take a sheet of paper and write a one-page letter to a friend. You have forty-five minutes.”

I thought of a funny idea for my letter, then looked up from my book. The whole class was scribbling, erasing, thinking, and scribbling some more. I kept reading my book. Suddenly the teacher warned us, “You have twenty minutes to finish.”

I closed my book and wrote a letter to an imaginary friend telling him about my weekend visit to some make-believe cousins who lived on a farm.  I wrote about climbing up the windmill tower. I wrote about chasing pigs that had escaped and about a bull that chased us.

To make the letter unique and easy to read, I quickly drew a little cartoon picture to replace every noun. I filled my whole letter with tiny sketches of fat pigs, flapping chickens, skinny cousins, an angry bull, a windmill, apples, a glass of milk, etc. Then the teacher said, “Time’s up. Hand in your letter.” I signed my letter and took it to her desk.

The Solution
The next day, the teacher said, “I am happy to say that many of you wrote excellent letters. But one of your letters was outstanding. It was one of the most original and best letters anyone has ever turned in during this class. I am putting it up in the school hallway for everyone to read and enjoy. Jack, congratulations on writing the best letter!”

Wow! I hadn’t expected that! What a surprise! It had been so simple, taking only twenty minutes. Even though I stank at many school activities, it was good to know I rocked at writing.  And best of all, nobody ever called me Dummy again.

The Best Lesson
In the last month of Grade Nine, I attended an evangelistic crusade meeting, where I heard that Jesus would forgive all my sins and be my Friend. I gladly accepted this great gift. No more feeling guilty! Yea!

It was then I realized that it was God’s Spirit who had motivated me to read so many books and to love words and that it was He who had given me the idea of using cartoon pictures to make my letter unique. I knew then I could trust Him forever.

 

How To Doubly Please God

The Question
A pastor friend and I were chatting about our personal prayers. “I write out my daily prayers,” I said. He looked surprised and said, “Why would you take time to write them out? When did you start doing that?”

“I find that writing out my prayers helps me to focus,” I said. “I have records of a few dozen prayers per year starting when I was fifty years old. But then something happened when I was fifty-five that clinched the value of praying by writing. I’ll tell you the story.”

The Story
A few years after Jo and I returned to Canada from our decades of Bible translation ministry in Brazil, Wycliffe Canada assigned us to work in a program to help young people become members of Wycliffe. Since Jo is by nature deeply interested in people and is gifted with the ability to discern personal problems, she served as a confidential interviewer and counselor with young women.

One morning I walked into the room where Jo was studying the responses to a highly personal questionnaire. As soon as she saw me, she closed her confidential file, and looked up at me with tears in her eyes.
“What’s the matter, Hon? I said.
“I need to interview this girl and will need to discuss some painful things. I just don’t know how to handle this situation.”

The Promise
With that, she picked up her folder and stood up to leave for the interview room. I hugged her and impulsively said,
“I will pray for you the whole time you are talking with her.”
“Thanks, Hon” she said, we kissed, and she walked out.

As the door closed behind her, I thought, What have I done? This interview will last an hour. I have never prayed for a whole hour about one thing in my whole life! Besides, I know nothing about the situation. I don’t even know who the girl is.
I knew, however, that I could write for an hour, so I sat down with my laptop, and started a letter to God.

 The Letter
“Dear God, Jo just walked out to interview a girl and I promised to pray for her the entire time she is with her. I have never prayed for any one person for that long my life, so please put thoughts and ideas into my head that I can bring to you in prayer.”

As I wrote, thoughts did come into my head. I wrote, I thought, I reread, I cried a few times. I kept writing, thinking, and writing some more. Suddenly I heard the door open. What? Jo had returned! The hour was over, and I wasn’t done praying yet!

 The Result
Jo read my prayer from my laptop screen, then looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Wow! This is amazing! God led you to pray about the very things we needed to talk about. And our interview went perfectly. She is going to be okay.”

“About that same time,” I said to the pastor, “I saw the movie Chariots of Fire and was struck by the words of Eric Liddell, the famous Olympic Christian athlete, ‘I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.’

“I knew God had made me a writer. Then I read Proverbs 15:8, ‘The prayer of the upright pleases Him’ and I put the two concepts together. I please God when I write, and when I pray, my prayers please Him. I thought, From now on, I’ll do both at once, and doubly please Him.

The Pastor’s Story
Sometime later I saw this pastor again. “I had been counseling a young married couple,” he said. One spouse needed to confront the other in private, so as they entered another room I promised I would pray for them during their private conversation.

“I remembered your story, Jack,” he said, “so I sat down with my laptop and wrote a letter to God about the couple and the confrontation that was going on at that very time. It took a long time, but God just kept me writing by putting ideas into my head.”

I was delighted to hear that my story had helped him to pray in a focused way over an extended period of time.

The Journey Into Praying by Writing
For about five years I wrote a Midweek Report. Each Wednesday I wrote a report to the President of my life. I thanked Him for the things I had been able to accomplish, brought problems to Him to help me solve and wrote to him about whatever came into my mind during that time: people, situations, finances, health, relationships, and mechanical or electronic problems, etc.

For the past fourteen years I have been writing daily prayers. I started off with five days a week, and eventually this habit grew to daily written prayers. Not everyone is a writer, for those of you who are, I hope these stories will encourage you to “double please God” through your prayers and through practicing the skill you are good at.

What About Non-Writers?
And what about those of you who confine your writing to making a grocery shopping list and signing birthday cards?  You are not left out. You, too, can please God by doing what He made you good at–cooking, baking, carpentry, sewing, painting, and caring for people, etc. God has given each of us one or more talents and when we use them, we will feel His pleasure. When we use them prayerfully we will doubly please Him.

Christians’ Right Thinking About Money

The last blog post, Christians’ Weird Thinking About Wealth, provoked many interesting comments. One of the most interesting was a friend who shared a testimony with me different from any other remark I had received.

Other friends have told me eye-popping stories of how they could fund major mission projects through the amazing wealth God helped them produce. This time, however, the amazing story came from an unexpected source. He is an ordinary guy, just like you and me, not gifted with the ability to produce great wealth, but with the ability to act increasingly as the manager of God’s money.

The Pseudonym
He was happy for me to share his story with you in this column but wanted to remain anonymous since staying unknown brings a special pleasure and joy to him. So I’ll call him Mac, a fitting name since it reminds Bible readers of the apostle Paul’s description of the Mac-edonians in 2 Cor. 8, MSG.

Fierce troubles came down on the people of those Macedonian churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colours: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.”

Mac’s Story
Here’s what Mac wrote, “For years I have been proving the Lord’s faithfulness in providing money for me to give away, even though my income isn’t excessive. One passage of Scripture that has encouraged me is Psalm 81:10 where I saw myself as a money manager, rather than as a consumer.”

In this passage God reminds Israel he brought them out of Egypt and was prepared to bless them abundantly. “Open wide your mouth, and I will fill it,” God promised. When your mouth has been filled, the next thing to do is to chew and swallow, consuming what you have been given. But Mac read it as a manager; when God gave him money, he did not consume it all. Instead, he shared it with other people.

Mac went on to write, “Twenty years ago the Lord gave me a thought I continue to pursue: ‘Why don’t you pray and ask Me for money so you can use it to help build My Kingdom?’

“It has been quite a journey, limited, I’m sure, only by my lack of faith. As I have fearfully stepped forward each year, increasing my commitment to financial stewardship, I now see how the Lord is ‘rebuking the devourer’ {a reference to Mal. 3:11 in which God promises His people that pests will not devour their crops, and in Mac’s case probably keeps his roof from leaking and his car from falling apart} so I can give half my income to Kingdom ministry (home church, summer camps, Bible colleges, missionaries, and the poor.)

“This has become a significant source of joy, particularly during this time of economic challenge. Twenty years ago, I didn’t believe it to be possible, but God’s economics continue to defy human explanation. All Praise to Him alone.”

What About Us?
Since people like Mac tend to obey Jesus’ command to do all their giving in secret, we don’t hear challenging and encouraging stories like this in church, unless they are second hand, like this one.

May God help us all to “open our mouths wide” to his provisions so that we can be outrageously generous to people and ministries in need.

Christians’ Weird Thinking About Wealth

My Skilled Friend and I
“Jack, I can come over this morning and solve that garage door problem that’s got you licked.” I was delighted with our handyman friend’s offer after I had I told him of my useless struggles. When he arrived, he looked over the problem and said, “I got this.” That afternoon, I sat at my computer, and my fingers rattled my keyboard. As the sentences of my current Work in Progress scrolled up my screen, I thought, “I got this.”

God’s Gifts to His People
During my evening  walk, I meditated on how every human being is exceptional, with at least one of several skills—things that they can potentially do better than other people. Every Christian also has at least one unique ability, given by God, that he or she can develop in His service. An accountant looks at a sheet of numbers that look like gibberish to me, and smiling says, “These figures sing to me.” My wife can flip open a cookbook, glance at a recipe and intuitively know what it will taste like.

So, what should we do with these abilities and ministry gifts from God? 1 Peter 4:10 has the answer: “Each one should use whatever gift he (or she) has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” The apostle Paul lists God-given skills like teaching, serving, encouragement and giving, among others. (Romans 12:6-8)

The Gift of Creating Wealth
What bothers me is that some Christians do not appreciate one amazing gift that God has given certain ones of His people. I’m talking about the ability to recognize and capitalize on profitable business opportunities, with the result that those who work hard with this God-given skill become wealthy and are outrageously generous.

A Negative Attitude
What makes Christians so critical of rich Christians—people who have been gifted by God to make a lot of money? Well, the Bible uses some extraordinarily strong language in judging rich people. In Chapter 5, the apostle James rants against the rich, telling them to weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on them. He refers to rotted wealth, corroded silver and gold that will corrode their flesh like fire.

After reading some of this chapter, we might come away with the idea that being rich is sinful. Not so. God cursed these people, not because they were rich, but because they had disobeyed God’s command concerning gaining wealth:

  1. They had exploited the poor, paying unfair wages, and had dealt dishonestly with customers, employees, and the government.
  2. They trusted in their wealth, abandoning faith in “God who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Deut. 8:18
  3. They spent their money on themselves and did not care for the poor, nor did they further God’s work on earth.

It is not money itself that is evil, but the love of money and the sinful, selfish ways some people become rich.

A Positive Attitude
We will think positively about rich people when we note God’s blessing on people who become rich by using their God-given wealth-producing talents while also obeying all His commands concerning wealth.

Some of our financial supporters have been gifted by God to produce a lot of wealth in business. They earn it legally and honestly, performing a constructive service to humanity. Their morals and business ethics are beyond reproach. They understand that all the money they earn belongs to God and that they are merely managers. They prove this by giving away a significant proportion of their income to meet human physical and spiritual needs.

And yet, sometimes I hear negative comments about Christians who live in large, well-furnished homes and drive newest model vehicles. That bothers me, especially when I happen to know that the wealthy persons they referred to earned their money honestly, continue to trust God, and are generous to the point of extravagance in their giving.

A Biblical Attitude
So, what about driving that new car, or living in a lovely house? God said it this way, “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads out the grain!” I’m sure that our handyman friend’s home has not only a functioning garage door opener; all his machines and appliances work at full efficiency.

In the same way, we Christians need to be glad for the special income-generating abilities our Father gives to some of our brothers and sisters when we see them enjoying a beautiful home, even one large enough to house celebrations for plenty of friends and overnight guests, and an vehicle that we might consider luxurious. We need to be glad for them and praise God for giving them this wealth producing ability.

And not just because they passed on some of that wealth to meet our needs!

The New Name

I have been writing my memoirs in a number of volumes which I call The Adventure Series. The first volume is the book of true stories for children but loved by adults, The Misadventures of Hansje: The Boy Who Kept His Guardian Angel Busy which covers my early years

The second volume is being published this week, The Adventures Begin: A Teen’s Memoir. You’ll be able to buy this book on my INSights and OUTBursts blog site soon.

(Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter of The Adventures Begin.)
After being seasick for over a week, I heaved a big sigh of relief when I finally stood on solid ground on Pier 21 in Halifax. It was Thursday, July 20, 1950, nine days of storms at sea since we left our home in Hilversum, Holland.

The women and children sat on suitcases and waited amid the confusion of baggage being unloaded and piled on the dock. The men stood in long lines to process their immigration papers and register their names. All I wanted to do was to board a train and start having adventures, and discover Canada with my physical senses, not just with my imagination from books.

The First New Name
Before we left Holland, we had already decided that we would change our Dutch names to English ones. We were going to be real Canadians; learn English, and integrate into Canadian society as quickly as possible.

During the immigration procedure the first name we changed was our family name. It was “Poepjes,” pronounced “Poop-yes” Unbelievable, but true.

Since it means the same thing in Dutch as it does in English, I had been teased and insulted for years because of that nasty-sounding name. I certainly didn’t want that to continue in Canada and neither did my parents. So, we took the “e” out of “Poepjes” and turned it into “Popjes.” In Dutch, this word means “little dolls” and had no meaning in English. Much better!

We also chose new, more Canadian-sounding first names. I was named Hans after my Papa. But since I was just a child, my name was Hansje, which meant Little Hans. In Canada, I was determined to be an adult with an adult name. So, Papa and I looked in the Dutch-to-English dictionary and saw the English translation for Hans was either John or Jack. I chose Jack since it sounded more manly to me, and Papa took John. I couldn’t wait to board the train and begin my new life in Canada as Jack Popjes—a young adult with a nice clean, new name.
End of the excerpt.

The Second New Name
This immigration experience was the only time I was able to choose my name. Eighteen years later, the Canela people adopted Jo and me into their tribal society and gave us Canela names. I have been known as Prejaka by thousands of Canela for the past fifty years. I value that name. But I look forward to another name, a secret name that I value even more.

The Final New Name
Someday, God will give me a new home, a new body, a new diet, a new life, and a new name. “Everyone who is victorious shall eat of the hidden manna, the secret nourishment from heaven, and I will give to each a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one else knows except the one receiving it.” Rev 2:17 TLB.

That name is the only one that matters—not Hansje, not Jack, not Prejaka—the new name created specifically for me by God. My future is so marvellous; God wants me to have a new name to match it.
May we all live in the victory that Christ gives as we look forward to receiving our new name.

You Cannot Learn Another Language Unless You Have This Ability.

The following language-learning story is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my upcoming book of memoirs, The Adventures Begin. This event happened in October 1950, three months after our family arrived in Canada.
As a twelve-year-old, who had been an avid reader since age five, I was fluent in Dutch and had learned to understand Frisian, which my parents spoke to each other when they were talking about things I wasn’t supposed to know. English was my second language.

The Problem
We were about to drive into town for our Saturday shopping trip when Papa discovered our old car wouldn’t start. He needed to siphon some gas from the tank into a container so that he could pour it directly into the carburetor. He looked everywhere for a piece of hose.

Finally, he called me and said, “Run out to the Osten place and ask for a piece of hose.” Papa told me this in Dutch and used the Dutch word for hose, slang.

“Yes, Papa,” I said, “I already know the English word for slang.”

The Confusion
Many languages have words that could be the name of two different things. In English, for instance, a pipe can mean a small hand-held device to fill with tobacco and smoke from, or it can mean a ten-inch wide conduit to drain sewage. A bat is both a night-flying animal and an implement to hit a ball. The Dutch language has the same types of words. The Dutch word slang means both “hose” and “snake.” But I didn’t know that.

Twenty minutes later, I told Mr. Osten, “My father needs a snake.” When he looked confused and surprised, I explained, “He is fixing the car.” That didn’t seem to help.

So, I walked over to his pickup truck and pretended to shove a hose down the gas tank and suck on it to drain out some gas; I even made a horrible face and spat on the ground as if I had tasted some gas.

The Solution
Mr. Osten laughed so long and hard that I laughed with him. He went into his garage and got me a piece of rubber tubing that was exactly right. “This is a hose,” he explained, “not a snake.” I thanked him, and he clapped me on the back and said, “Thanks for the good laugh.”

As I walked back home, I was happy to have learned another English word. Mr. Osten had laughed at my mistake, and that was fine since I now had a new word to teach Papa and Mama. Supper time was when Papa always asked me, in his best English, “What new word did you learn today? Teach us. Or do I need to spank you?” That last part was just in fun, at least I hoped so. But I always made sure I learned at least one new word, just to be safe.

The Ability
I didn’t know it then, but long after I had mastered English, I would learn and become fluent in two more languages, each more difficult than the previous one. Learning to speak these languages required the ability to laugh with those who laughed at my mistakes. Oh, and it also helps to have healthy self-esteem—not a problem for most Dutchmen.