Don Carlson, a True Evangelist, a Man of God, and My Friend and Teacher

Don Carlson, my friend and mentor, passed away yesterday. He was in his mid 90’s.

This man, in the few years I have known him, transformed my life by helping me break down the barriers that kept me from reaching lost souls for Christ. What I learned is that we have to get uncomfortable, because if we don’t then we may miss out on a great opportunity to lead a person to Christ. When the time comes, don’t we want to stand before Jesus and proclaim, “I said yes to Your Great Commission, and I was active in finding lost souls.”

I could say it is a missed opportunity to have helped a person make a decision for Christ, which is far more important than my selfish desires to stand before God and know I “left everything out on the field”. But, God is not going to entrust us with something so important that we are a persons only opportunity to accept Christ. If we fail at our task, He will just get another disciple, and another and another. It is for others that we witness and testify, but it is also for ourselves. The in-filling of completeness, which only He can provide, can be attained through evangelizing.

Knowing that you are helping to fulfill Jesus’ Commission is a feeling of joy and success that is unparalleled by anything in this world. Knowing that you can stand before God and say you gave it 110% will provide you with authentic completeness and wholeness in God. Don can confidently go before the Throne and proclaim that he gave everything he had, and I am so honored that I could be a part of what Don accomplished. Remember, we are talking about a guy in his mid 90’s.

So, what did Don accomplish? What could an old and frail man get done that was meaningful? Well, for one he transformed my life and my wife’s life. He affected the souls of my children and my nephew. He planted seeds. For me it was the seed of evangelism.

In life groups and in Church I hear people say that they are not equipped to be evangelist, even in regard to witnessing, which we are all called to do. They come up with excuses why they do not witness or evangelize. There is really only one excuse why people ignore these God-given directives, and that is fear. Fear to break out of their comfort zone to connect to another person. Fear that they will be intruding on another person life. Fear of rejection. Fear of anger. Fear.

I also have heard that it takes a confident, outward person with a strong personality to evangelize. But, this couldn’t be further from the truth. It just takes a person to say “yes” to the prompting. To be obedient to the Spirit.  It is faith in the Gospel and works of the Spirit that will make use confident.

My time with Don proved to me that with time the confidence will come, and until then we just have to focus on breaking out of our shell.

Let me introduce to you, what I call “Don Carlson’s School of Evangelism”, and how it transformed me.

Lesson one, “Cold French Toast”.

One day I am having breakfast with Don at a Bob Evans. The waitress just brought us our food. Underneath my nose were four thick pieces for French Toast, topped with lumps of butter that was melting into the syrup. There was a dusting of powdered sugar on everything to sweeten up this delicious meal even more.

I wasted no time. I picked up my knife and fork and was ready to eat. Don and I had already prayed, so there was nothing stopping me from devouring all I had in front of me.

Before I could pierce my toast with my fork, Don spoke. “Rob.”

I just wanted to eat. I wanted just one bite of that hot, sticky, buttery, sweet French toast, and I really didn’t want to talk right then. Maybe after a few minutes.

Don continued, slowly and calculated, “You know, that family is about to eat, and they haven’t said grace.”

I froze. I remember this so clearly. I was frozen with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other, and I just stared at my delicious French toast.

Let me step back for a second and explain what is going on here. You see, this frail 90-year-old man was sitting across the table from me, reclining in his chair, with his arm comfortably stretched over the chair next to him, and his legs crossed. Don was cool as can be. And what this frail old man was doing, was challenging me, no different from a double-dog-dare that kids do on the playground. I didn’t have to stick my tongue on a froze flag pole, but I knew something was coming.

I looked up, and I see Don casually pointing to a family of 3 across the aisle from us.

I responded, “Yeah?”

He responded, “Why don’t you go over there and pray with that beautiful family. Say grace with them.” This was not a question, this was the double-dog-dare.

I just stared at him speechless. I turned and looked at the family. I looked back at Don. Was he kidding? Oh my gosh! I just want to eat my French toast.

Don, was working me. He knew my number. He knew I wouldn’t cower. How could I? Here is this frail old man, and barely 100 pounds soaking wet. What was I going to say, “No, I am too chicken.” Or, try to come up with some poor excuse and try to talk my way out of it? Basically, make up lies to mask the truth – I am too scared to go over an pray for a family. The thought of Don thinking of me as a coward was unthinkable. I would be too ashamed to look him in the eye, because across my forehead would be the words “Coward”, and the rest of the breakfast would be totally uncomfortable.

I couldn’t believe it. I just got double-dogged-dared!

I was still in shock when Don said, “You better hurry, they’re about to eat.”

Son of a… gun!

I got up and that 5 foot aisle instantly stretched out to 100 feet. It grew right before my eyes. The walk over was so surreal that I didn’t feel as though I was there. Rob had left the body and ran for cover. I was going to make a spectacle of myself. This man is going to tell me to go take a hike. What the heck was I doing in a Bob Evan’s on a Saturday morning, going over to pray for a family I don’t even know? How did I get my self into this? I just wanted to eat breakfast. I just want my French toast. What would my family think?

“Hi. I am Rob.” I addressed the husband. “You have a beautiful family. Do you mind if I say grace with you?” We said grace, which I stumbled on. I should have just done, “God is great, God is good…” but I tried to do an impromptu prayer, and it was just bad. Really bad. And awkward. Really, really awkward. I was so self-conscious rather than God-conscious that I think the Holy Spirit was only able to get in there a few times and say what He wanted to say. Don, finally came over to save me. How thoughtful.

The important message here is not the prayer nor the dare, but the fact that I started to overcome my comfort zone that morning. I started to break down a barrier that day, and doing this has helped me in so many ways. This is not a barrier I had in my youth, but one that grew there. We all have them, but we need to break them down. I believe this is one of many messages and experiences Don would want me to share with you. There are many more.

By the way… when I finally got back to my French toast, it was cold.

Don, my Rabbi, my Teacher, put me in a position to do this, and I will never forget that moment, and I will never be thankful enough to God for putting Don in my life. And, for Don who said yes to God to take me on.

Our friendship was part of a Divine plan. You see, years earlier, before I knew Don, he was in his 90’s and on his death-bed. The Church prayed for him and he lived. When I met Don and started to get to know him more my life started to change, and I started becoming more like the person Jesus wants us to be. I had a revelation that this friendship was an ordained fellowship, and that God kept Don alive for me. What an audacious and self-centered statement, but I know there are many people in my Church and outside of it who can say the same thing. And they should.

This frail old 90 something man was man enough to affect many lives in the final years of his. I hope this brings hope to others that it is never too late to be effective. You are as powerful as your Faith, and Don’s Faith made him one of the most powerful people I know. He has a power in my life, and I am thankful I said yes to letting him in.

I know the last things Don said before he went to bed for the last time. Not because I was there, but because Don was so consistent and tenacious about his evangelism. It was either him telling someone, “Jesus loves you”, or asking “Do you have anything I can pray for you about.” Knowing Don, he went to sleep praying and worship.

God Bless you Don! Thank you Jesus!

Brenda and Don at Victory Church October 2013.
Brenda and Don at Victory Church October 2013.

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