Why Matthew 14? The power of convergence. How did Overboard Ministries begin? I’ll never forget the night this ministry launched. It was as if God Himself spoke. The midnight sky was shimmering in darkness-piercing starlight. The moon was not yet on the horizon and the universe was unfurled above me. The air was hot and still and only the occasional coyote howl or cricket chirp could be heard. I had been praying and fasting for three days, asking God to show me His will for a future ministry. As I looked heavenward, it was almost like the night sky parted, the stars formed letters and words and God revealed Overboard Ministries to me. It was amazing. And of course, this story is a bunch of poo-poo.
I know God can reveal His will however He chooses. For me and Overboard, it was a long, two-year period through which God mapped out a course using some new relationships and some out-of-the-box thinking that helped this ministry take shape. I’m confident God’s work is just beginning but how Overboard started has everything to do with where God takes it next. This story is a little long, but the process by which God brought all the pieces together are interesting (at least to me) and if you can endure the story, I think there’s a good take-home at the conclusion. If nothing else, there are some helpful links within the story that will expand your resource toolbox!
Back in the winter of 2009, I was starting to feel that God was opening up new doors of ministry and influence beyond what Traci and I had been enjoying since moving to Salem in 2001. This wasn’t necessarily a discontent with what we had, but certainly was a discontent with the scope of influence we had -- and a yearning for something bigger (not better, but bigger). I think I agree with Bill Hybels who was one of the first people I heard say that in order to change to something different, we must first start to dislike something about our current condition before we can fully embrace the greatness of the vision that lies before us. Whether you’re talking about moving yourself, or a business or a church -- there must be a certain disdain for your present condition in order to encourage and promote growth for a new one.
My wife Traci was the first to start to sense that God was moving us in a new direction but soon others were confirming His work. It was in August of 2009 that my dear friend and mentor Richard Muntz went home to be with the Lord. That man poured his life into me and I was blessed to know him and to be influenced by him through our weekly meetings. Our weekly meetings stirred in me something bigger for my life and his departure left me longing for more and was the beginning of God’s Work. Later, in the winter of 2009 and spring of 2010 God connected me with a life-coach by the name of Kevin Flierl who would grow that longing even further. More on that in a moment.
About a year before the time Kevin and I met, our youth group hosted a large outreach event with one of the world’s top up-close illusionists, Danny Ray (founder of Upright Illusions which later changed its name to Captivators). Danny and I really connected during his one-night event in October of 2008 and when he returned in October of 2009 (two months after Richard has passed away) he shared his heart for starting an on-line daily devotional for people to “connect with God”. Tenthdotministries has a great story, and Danny longed for that devotional site to grow into a community of believers world wide, each sharing in the Word, and in their personal experiences together. I was moved by his passion.
At that time, I had been doing a little bit of writing for a denominational youth worker’s magazine and had been activelyish* (if this blog is about nothing else, it will be about the creation of new words that the English language desperately needs!) looking for ways to expand my audience. My first blog died when I abandoned it for a year (odd!) but when I heard what Danny was doing, I knew this was how God was going to expand my ministry. So I offered Danny my extensive writing services. He said “no thanks.” 15 years of youth ministry has taught me some very valuable lessons and one of them is this: God isn’t always looking for the most talented writers, orators, guitar players or administrators -- He is however, actively pursuing men and women with a heart for Him who are willing to face rejection to pursue the path He has laid before them. I often wonder how many things haven’t been accomplished for the Kingdom simply because someone said “no” and someone else thought that meant “no”. I’m often too ignorant, too arrogant or too confident in my faith to know those boundaries and so I rejected Danny’s answer and sent him a devotional for his site anyway. Two weeks later he asked me to write another one and two weeks after that I was officially welcomed as Tenthdot Ministries second author.
And now Kevin Flierl reenters our saga. Kevin and I met while sharing the pulpit for a small gathering of youth workers in 2009. This group of 35-40 adults were meeting as their youth organization was finishing it’s work on the West Coast and pulling the plug on the system they had come to know and love. Pete Steele, a 20 year veteran of youth ministry, had invited Kevin and I to come and share with these people, that we might encourage them to press on even in the shadow of great discouragement. We met that night and God forged a great friendship.
As Kevin and I enjoyed the Tillamook Cheese Pepper Bacon Burger from Burgerville every other week at our meetings, God was using him to expand my view of what was possible if I kept pursuing God’s will. Kevin was teaching, challenging, pushing and prodding me towards something Traci and Richard had already seen; something to which I had been reticent to accept. Tenthdot Ministries had opened some new doors of friendship and ministry, my summer speaking schedule was filling up and God was burdening my heart for something more. Finally the summer of 2010 came around and by then everything was in motion and God was already launching Overboard Ministries. I just didn’t know I was leading that charge for Him!
From July 1 through December 21 God gave me seven different speaking engagements, including 5 different weeks of camp during the summer and a two-week span of teaching in South Africa with friend and fellow youth minister, Josh Ausfahl. It was during this season of external church ministry to groups that my eyes were opened to accepting how God gifted me and how He could use me for a broader influence on the Kingdom. It was scary and humbling; exhilarating and fulfilling; joyful and even alarming. But it was a great summer.
Towards the end of it, my family and I took some vacation with my eldest brother in Southern, CA. We had received free passes to Disneyland for having made and donated blankets to children undergoing cancer treatment. While we rested and played we made a three day excursion to stay with my friend and fellow devotional writer, Danny Ray. Besides being an amazing illusionist, Danny is an entrepreneur and visionary. He doesn’t just think outside the box, he lives outside the box. For three days we enjoyed rich fellowship between our families and truly a life-long friendship was forged between Traci and I and Danny and his wife Kimberly and our families. It was an awesome experience.
Danny pressed me hard and helped me unpack God’s work in my life. He built off what Kevin Flierl had been doing, which was largely influenced by the work and wisdom of my wife and Richard Muntz. When we left Danny’s house two things were certain: One, my first book Project Joseph had to be completed. The project had stalled for four months and it was time to finish delivering the message God had given me. Two, it was time to launch a ministry umbrella under which Project Joseph and other ministry ventures could be situated.
Three more weeks passed as Danny, Kimberly, Traci and I exchanged e-mails, texts and phone calls each with new ideas for a ministry name and brand. (By the way, if you happen to know Danny, be sure to ask him about “The Event Doctors” -- classic stuff!) While a name remained somewhat illusive, I kept coming back to a message that had become my favorite Friday night camp message and challenge. It was entitled, “Get out of the Boat” and came from Matthew 14. It’s the passage where Jesus walks on the water and Peter asks to join Him for a stroll on the Sea of Galilee. My Friday night message focuses not on Peter but rather, on the 11 other disciples who never left the boat. My heartbeat as a speaker, pastor, father and husband has emerged in my desire to help others live their God-designed calling as His children on the waters where He is doing Kingdom work, not in the comfort of the familiar surroundings of the boat.
As that identity became clear, Overboard Ministries was formed -- we just hadn’t named it yet (not unlike our third child who they wouldn’t let us leave the hospital with because Traci and I couldn’t agree upon what the initials ‘CJ’ stood for) (happily they represent Celina Jordan and they allowed us to leave). Out of the Boat, On the Water, Strolling the Lake, Out on the Water, Water Walking, Walk on Water, Jimmy Crack Corn and I don’t Care, Faith Walkers, Life on the Water, Lighten the Boat, reKindled, Refined and countless other names were bantered about, belittled and eventually eliminated. Soon it boiled down to Unleashed and Overboard and both had their pros and cons. Ironically, both Danny and I were underwhelmed by Overboard Ministries but the longer it lingered -- like a good Philly Cheese Steak -- the better it settled. Truthfully, it came down to google searches (if you’ve actually read all the way to this part of the story, e-mail me a note and I’ll send the first 5 readers to do so a little thank you gift) which revealed there was a plethora of of ministries using some form of Unleashed, but very few talking about jumping out of a boat. Weird.
January 1, 2011 it was official when Overboard Ministries LLC was officially birthed and allowed to leave the hospital -- name and all.
In telling this story that was far more interesting in the first paragraph, I am however reminded that we serve an enormous God capable of innumerable methods and means to connect others. It’s amazing to me how He connected me and Traci with a world-class Christian illusionist and his wife from Southern California, brought a life-coach from Tigard, Oregon, a wise old pastor, mentor and librarian from all over, and any number of other people and conversations to create Overboard Ministries. Before inviting him to perform at our church, I “met” Danny at a youth conference in 2006 where he performed on a stage in front of 3,500 of youth workers -- never imagined we would forge such a strong ministry partnership and friendship. I shared the pulpit with Kevin and we exchanged business cards -- never imagined God would use him to be a pain in my toushy so that I might get out of my boat and out on the water with Jesus. The connections, chance-meetings, geographic barriers and “coincidences” are too coincidental to be coincidences. Someone was in charge of making certain each of our lives intersected at precisely the right moment in time. I’m so indebted to these men and maybe they too, have been influenced for good because of our relationships. I don’t believe in coincidence but I do believe in His Divine Convergences.
I wonder how often we miss God’s Divine Convergences that He has arranged for us? How many times is just “too hard” or the first “no” we’ve heard makes us assume the door is closed when in fact, it just needs a little more pushing for the rusty old hinges to break free? (Hinges that have been made rusty by more than one other pilgrim passing by and turning away rejected or ignoring it all together.) I know I’ve missed some appointments and after I’ve seen what God has done and is doing with Overboard, I want to be sure I don’t miss any more!
Psalm 139:16 says, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” -- God’s appointment book for me is already laid out. His Divine Convergences are already on the calendar. The question isn’t whether or not they will happen, it’s whether or not I’ll participate with Him when they do. What about you? What life-coach or Christian Illusionist or wise Christian saint is God sending to you in order to move you where He wants you to be for your next convergence?
Take the plunge, life is better on the water!
* Ack-tiv-lee-ish: To be actively passively-active in some form of activity. Not committed, but not idle, kind of like a lot of Baptists in relationship to their church membership.