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Overboard Blog

Living the extraordinary life of faith!

Filtering by Tag: focus

What Are You Staring At?

Joseph Castaneda



Focus seems like a lost art in the crazy world of information that we live in today. In fact, even as I write this blog post I realize how unfocused I am as I'm carrying on a conversation on Facebook Messenger with one friend on my iPad, using my phone to text with another, and responding to emails every time my laptop chimes. Apparently this was a timely word for me, too...

I recently read an article about how important focus is for the human mind, especially for young children. The author of the article stated that we are witnessing a new generation of social and psychological problems in children, that he believes, are directly related to the inability of kids to focus because of the constant need to be entertained by some sort of handheld device.

According to this researcher, it seems that we were designed (I would say, created!) for needing times of "white space." White space is a term usually used in design work, describing the space where no words or colors have invaded a page. White space is necessary in design work as it allows the human eye to focus on what's important.

Mentally, white space carries the same concept: it's the opportunity to have nothing calling for our attention (the phone is off, the door is closed, the office is quiet....whatever it takes!) so that we can focus on what's important. So we can, as Paul says, "fix our eyes on what is unseen."

And while it's easy to point to the kids, I'm not fooling anyone, because I'm just as guilty of filling my life to capacity with noise, and not leaving enough white space to stay fixed on God, who He is, and what He is doing in my life and in the world around me.

Do you need some white space today? In our house, we are beginning a new white space campaign, maybe you should join us! Most of our distractions come from screens, so here's a list of our family's plan for creating more white space:

1 hour a day with ZERO screen interaction (phones, laptops, iPads, TVs, watches...)
1 day a week with ZERO screen interaction (we are presently toying with Sundays, but also considering Mondays)
1 week every year with ZERO screen interaction (My daughter almost threw up when she heard that one. Ha!)

We're not sure how the time will be used, except that it's meant to be screen-distraction, free, for all of us, all at the same time. That time might be used for games together, might be used for rest, conversation, exercise, reading, praying, is just meant to be white space. For sure, it's a work in progress and we will keep you updated on how our family goal actually works out!

Do you need more white space in your life? If you're distracted by technology (my computer literally chimed as I wrote those words!) or by heartache, loss, or the worries of this world, than I encourage you to create some white space so that you can focus on what matters most.

Learning to be Uncomfortable.


A few days back I had this kind of funny thought: “God sure doesn’t want me being too comfortable these days!” With my recent job loss and uncertain housing and work future (although I have some exciting news to share with you on my next blog post...stay tuned!), the desire to be comfortable has certainly been low on the totem pole. I’d take “employed” and “housed” long before I’d take comfortable! In and of itself, comfortable isn’t a bad thing. There are people who believe that true followers of God must be miserably uncomfortable in order to show their esteem for God. Nothing in Scripture would suggest that this is true. However, comfort can become an excuse to not do what God has asked you to do. Neither of these extremes works for someone trying to live the Overboard Life.

While pondering these thoughts, I came across this awesome video by an American made garment company making waves in the fashion industry by selling their self-proclaimed “world’s best” zip-up hoodie for $90. A recent write up on a popular web site shot their product sales thru the roof, and for a short time, sales for a hoodie -- yes, a hoodie -- were back ordered for 5 months! American Giant went to work to increase productivity, find new suppliers and improve their warehouse and shipping efficiency. American Giant understands the dangers of being comfortable. Check out their ad:

This is definitely my idea of comfortable!

This season of discomfort has been good for me. It has reminded me of the things that are important and helped me to reinvest in the habits and patterns that I need in order to achieve what the Lord has put on my heart. Early mornings and late nights are generally not the hours that the comfort-lovers participate in. I’ve been reminded at how important the extra moments of each day are, choosing to spend those spare minutes investing intentionally in relationships, building business partnerships and engaging my wife and kids more often. Discomfort has improved my time management.

Discomfort has also re-fueled my passions. I want to be a person that is driven primarily by values and beliefs, not organizational bureaucracy or  paycheck-driven work. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of working because you get paid, or to belong to something that isn’t value driven but is comfortable or easy. Discomfort has returned a fire in my belly to live/work/play/worship/serve/love/give/dream according to the God-given values that make life worth living: self-sacrifice, contentment, faith, love, belief, forgiveness, trust, generosity etc...

I have also been the recipient of a healthy dose of perspective during this time of upheaval. While trying to navigate what's next for our family, I've been far more aware of the plight of others. My friend Caleb is ministering in the Ukraine, and is experiencing, first hand, the ravages of war (his blog is outstanding, and would be worth your time). All around the world, Christians are being publicly persecuted, beaten and murdered as punishment for their faith. Being jobless and homeless is a big deal, but it has been good for me to keep our journey in perspective.

Finally, this period of discomfort has fired up my desire to create and dream. I think I just came out of a season where I felt creativity was stifled, and where constant turn over created an environment of fear and uncertainty. Fear kills dreams, and stifling creativity forges an environment where creating something new is almost impossible. The level of discomfort God has allowed us to experience has fired up the ol’ dream machine again, and now, more than ever, I’m eager to engage in the creative process of building something new (you really need to read Monday’s blog post!).

I can’t say I’ve become a fan of being uncomfortable, but in a strange way, I’m starting to enjoy the feeling. After all, the Bible reminds us that, ultimately, I'm a sojourner in this world. Still, I’m praying that God will allow us to find a life-rhythm that will allow us to have a place to live, a clear direction for service (part of that prayer is already taking shape...check back on Monday!) and a comfortable level of discomfort (commonly referred to as “Disuncomfort”*) where time is managed well, passions are fueled, perspective is kept and dreams inspire creative growth.

At the end of 1 Peter, the apostle reminds us, “...and after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” Those are great words of encouragement for the imprisoned, the persecuted and for those who’ve had life turned upside-down on them.

Go ahead and take the plunge -- it might be a little uncomfortable, but -- life is always better on the water!

* “Dis” is from the popular early 90s phrase [as in, “I’m going to dis you for treating me like that’] and “un” implying the opposite of whatever is next [as in, “un-cool” or “un-sure”], combine with “comfortable” which means “affording or enjoying contentment and security.” Therefore, disuncomfortable is a proper double negative implying the speaker is dissing not being comfortable. Disuncomfortable is a state-of-mind, and generally only used by those experiencing being uncomfortable but are choosing to enjoy their present circumstances, regardless.

The unexamined life...


I think it was Plato who receives credit for the saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It’s easy to examine and critique the lives of others, but often somewhat painful when we turn the lens of inspection onto ourselves. Most of us don’t like seeing our flaws or weaknesses exposed; personal examination is, after all, personal. Over the past several years, September has been my personal reset month. As a youth pastor for almost 17 years, and now working at a camp primarily with students, there is a rhythm to the start of the school year that makes this month a natural fit for evaluating goals, laying out new projections and regaining personal realignment. While January is a great time to roll out those new goals, September has proved to be the best time to evaluate them, and to make sure I’m still on course with the projects God has put on my heart.

finish-lineSince today is the start of the month, I thought I’d lay out my thirty day action plan for you to see and evaluate. Maybe you, too, feel compelled to make September a month for personal realignment and I’d love for you to share that with me so we can encourage each other over the next 4.5 weeks. Please feel free to ask me how I’m doing and to check-in on my progress.

For the next thirty days, I’ll be working on five areas of my life. I’ve laid out 3-4 targets for each area in order to reset my personal discipline (the summer routine is vastly different than the school year routine) and to realign myself with my January goals. So here we go!

Physical Health

As I continue to work on my health, my primary focus will continue to be taking steps (literally hundreds of thousands of them!) toward being ready to run 13.1 miles in my first half-marathon on October 5th. The byproducts of this kind of training have included much higher energy levels, loss of weight and my wife regularly telling me that I’m looking good (she’s always been generous with her compliments; they just seem to be coming more frequently and that is absolutely inspiring!).

Take supplements twice a day, every day! My wife, Traci, has worked for Usana Health Sciences for over ten years, and as a result, I believe we have access to the best vitamins around. However, lately I haven’t been making sure those vitamins are making it out of their daily packs and into my body. For September, I plan to go 60/60 on my vitamin pack in-take. (Usana makes it easy to order your daily vitamins in customizable morning and even packages, so that I don’t have to sort or count vitamins; I just have to open the stinkin' pack and take them. So I’m going to open and take 60 packs this month!)

Drink my water and take my steps! Another big one for me is making sure I’m drinking enough water, especially during this season of life where I am running a lot. Hydration is another huge aspect of overall health, and it’s really not that hard to drink my water each day, since I have easy access to good filtered water all over the camp property. So here’s to 60oz a day, every day, during September. And since I’ll be nice and hydrated, I should have fewer issues getting out there and running, so I plan to run 3-4 times a week over the next four weeks as Traci and I prepare for our big race day.

Spiritual Health

No area of my life affects all the others, quite like my spiritual health. When I am staying closely connected to God, I find my marriage is stronger, my parenting is better, I’m more motivated to work on projects and engage people, and regardless of my immediate circumstances, I have a clearer perspective on God’s work. And while there are good (and bad!) seasons of life in my spiritual growth (or lack thereof), there is always room for growth.

Start my mornings with God, first thing. Last school year I had a great morning routine that started each day with God. During the summer, my time with God was often relegated to later in the morning, or squeezed in-between other camp activities. I want to get back to starting my day on better footing, and so He and I will return to our 5:55am meeting time. I am not a morning a person at any level, but that’s the time I can snag with God before I have to wake up kids and get the day going. Many of you are morning people, and 5:55am is almost your lunch hour, but for me, it’s easier to stay up until 5:55, then it is to get up at 5:55. This is a big realignment for me.

Attend church prayer meeting on saturday morning. Our church hosts a Saturday morning prayer service at 7:30am on Saturday. The problem is that our church is 45-minutes away, but for September, I plan to attend each Saturday morning prayer time in order to pray with church family.

Memorize Colossians 3. Several years ago, I set out to memorize Colossians 3. I got about half way and then trailed off and I’ve never gone back and finished. I will finish memorizing Colossians 3 during September.

Professional Growth

Here, I am breaking up professional goals into two areas: Overboard Ministries and Lake Ann Camp.

Write something, every day! I have really fallen off the wagon when it comes to this habit and I plan to hit it hard this month. I am going to write something, every day, during the month of September. Whether it’s working on my book, writing a blog, sending out some letters or developing a study guide, I am going to write every day for the next 30 days.

Finish my book. I had dreams of finishing my latest book, Overboard, by July 1. That didn’t happen, and then camp did happen, and now my book is still sitting on my laptop near completion. My awesome editor Michelle has finished her work and is waiting on me to finish mine so we can get this thing published! So get ready Michelle, I am going to wrap this project up!

Implement a new system for tracking inquiries at camp. One of my jobs at the camp is to respond to guest inquiries for camp rentals. The current system we have in place for tracking those inquiries is lacking in several areas, and after 16 months of doing this job, I have a much better handle on the changes that need to be made. During September, a new system will be put in place.

Fill our Youth Pastor’s retreat in February. Traci and I host the youth pastors and wives retreat the camp puts on in February. Last year there were four couples and we had an amazing weekend. This year, however, we want to grow this retreat, and that means laying the ground work now. My goal is to have at least 12 couples here, and so I will contact two dozens youth pastors during September to challenge/remind/encourage them to be apart of this year’s retreat.

Family Plans

During the summer, our kids have the joy of living on a 320 acre play ground with hundreds of adults who know them, keep an eye on them, and invest in their lives. As a result, our family time looks very different for two full months and our kids love the freedom and fun that comes with living on a camp ground. As the school year hits, our family routine is important for all of us, and getting back on track has a big impact on the kids' success at school.

Intentionally connect with each child, each week. We have our family meals and enjoy time in the car going to school (25 minutes each way), going to church (40-45 minutes each way) or driving in to town (30 minutes each way), but that is vastly different than carving out intentional time with each child. My goal is to spend at least an hour, each week, intentionally investing in each child (on top of our regular connecting points). So that might be a Nerf gun war with AJ, reading a book with CJ or playing a game of cards with BJ. Whatever it is, it needs to be at least an hour and it needs to be intentional on my part.

Restore our weekly date night. Traci and I have always been huge advocates of date night, but during the summer, weekly dates are far more challenging since I speak to campers twice a day, once in the morning and once at night. We managed to carve out time for a snack at the lake or for a drive off camp for a quick meal, but in September I want to restore our weekly outings and reconfirm my commitment to my marriage through our weekly dates.

Confirm our Christmas plans. This will be the first year that Traci and I won’t be around family at Christmas since we were married without kids in Seattle. Our kids have already talked about it and are a little bummed about the notion, so Traci and I have been talking about ways to introduce some new traditions and new ways to celebrate the birth of Jesus in our Michigan home. I know planning is one of those things that makes my wife super happy, and she is, without a doubt, the Christmas party animal in our house. So I want to help her nail down our Christmas plans now and kill two birds with one stone: eliminate possible future planning tensions, and score some points with the little lady!

Personal growth

Traci constantly challenges me with her own journey of growth. She just came back from a conference about business, and so much of what she learned is really personal growth that will impact her future business, too. So here are a few areas I want to grow in (or realign myself with) in September:

Get up at 5:55am. Have I mentioned that mornings are hard for me?

Outline daily goals in the morning, evaluate at night. Each morning I want to lay out my daily/weekly/monthly goal list, and then take a few minutes at night to evaluate my progress. It doesn’t make much sense to set these goals if I’m not going to take time to see where I’m at in the process of meeting them. So after my morning time with God, I will take the next 10-15 minutes to lay out the daily goals and to make sure I’m staying on track with weekly and monthly targets. Each night, I’ll take a few minutes to evaluate the day's progress.

Create at least 25 lifetime goals. I recently re-read Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker. At the end of the book, he spends a lot of time writing about lifetime dreams he has, and it really got me thinking.  A few years back I laid out some long-term dreams, and it’s been fun to see a few of them come to be (take Traci to Hawaii, write a book) and to realize that I am still making progress on others, while a few have totally fallen off my radar. I’ve already started working on this list and I’ll be excited to share it with you after the list is finished at the end of the month.

Read a book on creativity. I love the creative process and I love how God has designed each of us with our own creative concepts. And while you can’t necessarily teach creativity, you can help people release their own creative juices. I’ve felt a little stuck in this area of my life. So this week I picked up a book on the topic, and during September, I’ll read it and take notes (creatively, of course!).

Ok, there you have it. If you endured this entire blog I’m assuming you have: Questions, input and most importantly, some goals and projects of your own. Share those with me via the comments in this blog or more personally in email at:

What are you dying for?


I’m a closet fan of extreme sports. I find myself drawn to the high-flying, danger-flaunting, I-can-do-better-than-you mentality of extreme sports athletes. I love their flair for the dramatic, and when someone truly rises above the rest of the competition, it is a thing of beauty and amazement to see -- something that showcases the incredible capacity of the human body to push boundaries further than anyone thought reasonable. As you can see, I was an extreme sport athlete in my early days!I have a subscription to a magazine that frequently showcases extreme sport athletes. Unfortunately though, over the past year of issues, there have been several deaths of men prominent in their particular sport. While most extreme sport's injuries involve broken bones, potential hospital visits and a few extra scars to be proudly worn by their owner, death is always looming in the shadows of the adrenaline-driven sports. And it’s this flirting with death that is part of what makes any extreme sport so captivating; and so tragic when things go wrong.

In two particular stories, I was caught by a line spoken by the spouses of the deceased husbands. Both men died gruesome deaths. One passed away instantly after falling from a significant height, and the other died following hours of suffering after being crushed by an object weighing more than a thousand pounds. What did both these wives say about their husbands’ deaths? “I’m just so glad he died doing what he loved.”

I can’t imagine the intense pain and loss these two ladies felt. Both of them had been married to their spouses for several years, and one of them had two small children that would now grow up without their father. Each man was very well respected in his sport, and their deaths were mourned by many. And often repeated by others in the sport was the same line: “He died doing what he loved.”

As I’ve reflected on that idea, I’ve come to a little conflict of heart. On the one hand, who doesn’t want to die in a blaze of glory doing what they love? On the other, what if what you love isn’t worth dying for? No, I’m not casting any judgment on what I believe to be the perceived value or non-value of extreme sports. What I am doing, however, is asking myself the question: If I died doing what I loved, would that love be worth dying for?

When I had been a youth pastor for just a couple of years, I got one of those calls you never want to receive. A young man in our community had been involved in a tragic accident and his life was hanging by a thread in one of Seattle’s premiere trauma wards. After a night of partying, he was too drunk to drive, so another friend who was “less drunk,” had been designated as the driver. Half-way from the party to home, their car crossed the center line and hit an oncoming vehicle head-on. Unbuckled and passed out in the back seat, this teenage boy suffered life-threatening injuries.

I made several visits to the hospital to spend time with him and his family. On more than one afternoon I was alone with him in his ICU medical room, talking to him and praying to God for his healing. I often read Scripture passages to him and frequently shared God’s love not knowing if he could hear me ore not. The family and I spent time together, sharing meals and getting to know each other (prior to this event, I had not had any contact with this family).

After weeks of surgeries and waiting, it became apparent he was not going to survive. So after painful consideration, his parents took him off of life support and prepared for his death. His body fought hard for a little while, but a few days later, he passed away. The funeral was attended by over 500 people from his school and community. Some kind words were spoken about him, funny stories were shared, and many tears were shed as the grieving process unfolded.

Afterward, the family hosted a closed reception for a smaller segment of mourners. They had rented a nearby gymnasium and around one hundred friends and family members gathered together to eat, cry and -- it feels absurd to even write it -- to party.

One of this boy’s family members gave a speech that has a familiar ring to it. I don’t remember the exact words, but the gist was something like this: “[he] lived life to the fullest, and on the last night he was truly with us, he was doing what he loved most -- partying with friends. So that’s how we’re going to honor him today, we’re going to party together!” Then, acting as though his death had not been alcohol related, they busted out a cooler of beer while the DJ kicked up some tunes and the dancing began.

If you had to die doing what you loved, would that activity you loved be worthy of your death? Would you want to die playing your favorite sport? Would partying with friends be the way you’d want to go?

Of course, we generally don’t get to pick the way we go, but these stories get me thinking about the life -- and death -- I want to have. I don’t want to die in a way that dishonors my Lord, shames my wife or embarrasses my family. I hope that whatever I’m doing fits into Colossians 3:17 where Paul says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” That means that my entertainment, my sports activities, my dates with Traci, the sermons I preach, the fun I have with my kids, the way I spend my money, the blogs I take the time to write and anything else I do has to fit through a super refined lens. Ultimately, every activity of my life has to answer this one question: does this event bring honor to God?

If I can answer that question with a resounding, “Yes!” then I know I won’t mind doing that particular activity when it’s my turn to answer death’s call.

What about you? Do the things you love bring honor to God? At the end of the day, I want to be a guy who dies doing what he loves, as long as what I love is worth dying for. And for me, if my life fits the criteria of Colossians 3:17, then I know I’m ready to go at any time. This is certain: anyone living the Overboard Life is, without a doubt, living out Colossians 3:17 (remember...process, not perfection!). Are you ready?

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

What would you do differently?


By Joe Castaneda This past year I’ve been working my way through Ken Burns’ amazing documentary called Baseball. Yes, it has a lot of baseball in it, but whether you like the sport or not, Burns does an absolutely phenomenal job of wrapping the American story through the game of baseball. The Great Bambino, Babe Ruth, flourished during...the roaring 20s! Jackie Robinson is famous because...he helped America break through the color barrier, starting with baseball. The civil unrest of the 60s and 70s echoed through a sport that still practiced horrible wage discrimination and a continued struggle to accept blacks as equal citizens. From the 1800s to the early 21st century, if you enjoy American history (and certainly if you enjoy baseball), do yourself a favor and dial up Burns' Baseball on Netflix.

As a baseball fan, one of the more interesting aspects of the series is how Ken weaves the births and deaths of famous players into their context. One of those stories begins in the late 1800s and ends in 1960s, and revolves around baseball’s greatest hitter, Ty Cobb. He died, on this date, in 1961.

Cobb was loved by fans, but lived his life with a deep seeded hatred for almost everyone. He played the game, and lived most of his life, full of fire and venom. He would spike opponents with his cleats when he slid into second, he cursed at umpires, argued and fought with fans and he was always yelling at his own teammates. A longtime member of the Detroit Tigers (he played his last two years in Philadelphia), Cobb epitomized the rough and tough nature of baseball and American culture in his day.

He was a fierce competitor. Today, most of his records have been passed, although still -- 100 years since he first began playing! -- he is in the top 5 in many offensive categories (2nd in runs scored, 2nd in hits, 4th in number of double, 4th in number of stolen bases). He was relentless at the plate, a pure hitter, and he strove to beat every pitcher he faced. He hated losing, almost as much as he hated missing the ball. His .366 lifetime batting average is still the highest in baseball history! In fact, it’s fairly safe to say no one will do what Cobb did: 23 consecutive season of hitting over .300 at the plate.

While most of us will never excel in baseball like Ty Cobb, all of us will face the same end: our lives will come to completion. On July 17th, 1961, the great Ty Cobb passed away. Less than 400 people attended his funeral (by contrast, Babe Ruth had hundreds of thousands of fans come to his viewing!), and only 3 of those 400 people had ever played with Cobb. None of his teammates or the other players of his day came to see him off.

In an interview right before his death, Cobb said this: “If I had life to do over again, I'd do it a little different. I’d have more friends.” He died by himself. He had divorced two different women, and lived alone with fear and anger. He drank profusely. He was miserable.

Death always makes us reflective. Cobb, reflecting on his life, realized that all his great athletic feats meant nothing at his death. He wasn’t surrounded by people he loved and who loved him, he was alone and a mess.

What will you and I reflect on at the end of our lives? What things are we doing today that we’ll be thankful for in the future? What behaviors, fights or activities will we regret?

I recently turned 40 and had some time to reflect on the “half-way” point of my life. (You can read that here.) I’ve come to realize that as I’ve aged, my life is becoming more and more focused on a few things, instead of spread out over many. I don’t want to come to the end of my life and wish I had lived it differently. Of course we all make mistakes, we all get on the wrong path, we all say things we wish we could take back and involve ourselves with things we wish we hadn’t. But at the end of it all, I want my life direction, my greatest moments and achievements to point to a life that loved God, loved others. I hope people will see that I spent more time on the water with Jesus, than in the comfort of the boat with those that lack the courage and conviction to step out.

What about you? Are there course corrections you need to make? Are you on a path that you already know will not take you where you want to be? Are you in a relationship that is hindering your commitment to the Lord? Do you need to reinvest in your marriage? Are your children eager for you to make them as valuable to you as your work? Are the important things in your life true priorities?

Live today with the end in view.

So go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

5 dream killers #tbt


Have you ever sat back and wondered what happened to your dreams and goals? I've had some God-sized dreams over the years that just seemed to disappear -- they were so close at one point I could almost touch them, then something happened: I got derailed and the dream disappeared or seemed so unreachable that I quit.  

I was looking back over some content for today's #tbt blog, and I found this one, detailing 5 dream killers that those wishing to live the Overboard Life must be aware of. Have you found any of these in your life?


(Originally appeared on January 11, 2012)

Gary Ryan Blair asked this question in his 100-day challenge program: "If your goals, dreams and hopes could speak, what would they say about you?" I took it a step further and thought about this question: “What would they say about how I operate and the passion with which I pursue them?”


What keeps me back from achieving the goals God has put on my heart?

I thought about this question for a little while and came up with five possible answers. Each of these is a personal reflection from my own life, especially thinking about those times I set out to do something, but failed to complete it. Maybe you can relate to a few of these. These are not necessarily listed in order of importance or significance, but the first one is definitely the top problem area for me.


  1. Lack of decision: I can clearly see some big objectives in the past that didn’t get completed simply because I failed to set my course. I said, “I want to achieve [X]” but then did nothing to actually push myself that direction. It’s like saying, “I want to lose

    Like my friend Andy says: "Excuses are like armpits: We all have them and they stink!"

    weight and get in shape” but then continuing to eat junk food all day and failing to start my membership at the local gym. (By the way, if you need help with food and tackling it from more than the perspective of ‘just another diet’, let me encourage you to get connected with my good friend Amber Thiel and her amazing program, The Healthy Edge!) Saying that I want to do something, and making the decision to start shaping my life towards that goal are two very different actions. The words are easy to say, but it’s another thing entirely to step out and start. I have had more than one venture in my life begin strong -- but unfortunately I’ve had many of them never get past the start. I think I have 5-7 unwritten books on my laptop alone, each of which got a great start, but none of which were finished because I never made a choice to go after them. Project Joseph was the first book I finished, and it too had 3-4 month stall period. This is a big one for me.

  2. Fear: It’s not often that I’m afraid to try something, but if I’m being entirely honest and transparent, then I have to admit that fear has sidelined me more than once. Fear kept me from starting Overboard in early 2010. I was afraid the money wouldn’t come in (which it didn’t when we first started). I was afraid that people would think I was a cheeseball for starting my own “publishing company” (and many of them did). I was afraid that I wouldn’t pick up any other authors and that editors wouldn’t be too interested in helping out. All of these were legitimate concerns, but none of them were valid fears. Thankfully, because of how God used my amazing wife Traci and my dear friends Danny Ray and Kevin Flier, I was able to overcome those fears and step out of the boat. Still, fear has kept me out of the game from time-to-time. It’s good to note, too, that on occasion, the fear of success has put me out of commission. Fearing what people will do/think if I succeeded at something. Kinda of weird, but just being real.
  3. Excuses: Excuses are the best. I can play the blame game as well as anyone, and when I make excuses, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Blaming the economy, the weather, the publishing industry, my editor, my graphic artist, my distributor, my printer, my kids, my tennis shoes with a hole in the bottom and my mail man for never bringing me "checks in the mail." The list could go on and on, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of blaming everyone else for my problems, instead of owning what  I’ve done and who I am. When starting Overboard Publishing, one of my best excuses was, “But I don’t know anything about publishing a book...” It was true, but it was also easily remedied. Excuses make us feel safe. They become a huge wall that surrounds us so that no solutions can get in, and certainly no good ideas will get out. Excuses are warm and comfy and they long to sleep around us and keep us comfortable, but as my friend Andy Hartfield says, "Excuses are like armpits. Everyone has them and they stink!"
  4. Lack of Discipline: Here is another zinger for me, personally. This would be number two on my list if I were listing them in order of impact. I can blame my ADD (there goes those excuses again!), but reality is that discipline, more-often-than-not, boils down to choices. Choices to do one activity over another. Choices to stay up later than I need to, thus making it harder to get up for my personal growth time in the morning. The longer I live, the more I realize how discipline doesn’t have to be a straight jacket. I always strayed away from discipline because it seemed to cut off the circulation of life. In reality, a healthy discipline allows us to enjoy life more deeply, while living it more eternally. When I’m rightly disciplined, I get more done, and enjoy more time with my family doing the things we love to do together. But discipline requires work and it requires diligence in the little things. Check out this blog on that topic.
  5. Lack of Focus: Some would put this with lack of discipline, but I think it’s another topic entirely. In my world, discipline is about making right choices when options compete; focus is about intensity. I can make the right choice, but lack the intensity to maximize the benefit. For example, I could get up at 6:30am with the goal of writing. I could open up my lap top, open up Scrivener, and begin my writing for the day. However, if I have the curtains open in the front room, it’s easy for me to find a squirrel and get distracted from my task. I’m still somewhat disciplined (I got up on time and started writing), I’m just not maximizing my writing because I lack focus. This is another big one in my life.


Today I will review and assess my goals. I will see if there is some course correction that needs to take place as I long to keep the course on some big goals. I’ll let you know what I come up with, but I’m curious if any of you would add any other obstacles you face that I didn’t list here? Leave comments and help your fellow readers!


Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!


Hold the course


In preparation for my first half marathon I’m finding out why I really don’t enjoy running that much: it’s hard. Yes, after several months of running I’m finally breaking thru some barriers, but running is still hard work for me. For example, on almost any given day I can hop outside and run 1.5-2 miles without much pain. But after two miles, my brain starts in on this little game I like to call, “Let’s go home and eat a frozen pizza.”  

An they're off! Runners head out on a long-distance run! Photo by my good friend @ Diana Dettwyler Photography (

If my running thoughts were broadcasted, I would be somewhat humiliated. I’d be running by someone’s house and they’d hear, “I wonder if I just ran into that tree in their yard, if they’d call 9-1-1 and I could get a lift home?” Or the other day when a guy stopped his car on the road to ask directions he would have heard, “Yeah, I’ll tell you where the baseball park is if you let me hop on your running boards for the next mile!” The problem with that plan is that the app Map My Run would have shown a split mile time of 45mph and most of you wouldn’t have believed I actually ran that fast. You guys are such skeptics!


The flip side of the hard work though, is the joy -- yes, I just used the word joy describing an aspect of running! -- that comes when you set a personal new distance record or meet a time goal. Just last night Traci and I ran for 4.13 miles, out on the road for over 46 minutes. It was the first time I had run that far (previously I hadn’t run more than 3.57 miles) for that long (42 minutes was my previous time).


I was actually pretty pumped to share that with others, even with my running friends who hit 4.13 miles during their “warm up” runs before the race. There was something profoundly important to me, and thus joy-inducing, when I hit those two marks; it was hard, and the difficulty of it created its own reward.


This half marathon training has really been the perfect metaphor for this year. As I approach the half way point of life (statistically speaking), I feel like I’m just hitting my stride. I’ve worked through the challenges of starting, I’ve climbed a couple of hills and enjoyed coasting down a few slopes, and now I’m in the grind. Now I’m in the part of the run where my mind is looking for shortcuts to the finish line, where I’m wondering why I keep running even though my feet ache and I’m frustrated that I’m being passed by so many other runners who don’t seem to struggle at all.


Part of me is looking back at the course and wishing I had started my training earlier. “If I had done this or that, I would be [insert over-inflated sense of self accomplishment here].” Part of me is looking ahead, knowing some more big hills are coming, and wondering if I’ll have what it takes to run my race to the end.


The writer of Hebrews must have been a long-distance runner, because he understood run psychology. He writes in 12:1-2, “...let us throw off everything and that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles...and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...”


I’m learning that distance running requires two traits, and neither of them are physical. The first is sheer grit. You have to run with perseverance. You have to choose to stay on the path, to keep running even when you’re being passed, to commit to holding the course on the hills when your mind is fairly certain you’ve accidentally gotten off course and stumbled upon Mt. Everest. The most athletic people in the world can struggle in distance running simply because of the mental toughness that’s required. While learning to run, I’m learning how mentally un-tough I am, but I’m working on it!


The second trait distance runners need is focus. You have to find a way to engage your mind while you run. I’ve talked to a lot of runners, and they all have great focus, they just focus on different things. I have one friend who just counts his steps and thinks about each stride as his feet pound the pavement. I have another friend who said she spends time creating lists while runs. Shopping lists, to-do lists, honey-do focusing on the lists, she takes her mind of the distance and runs with more ease. I’ve heard of runners who fix their eyes on a point on the horizon and set mini-goals for reaching those points, and I’ve heard of runners who count spectators or trees and I’ve known some who put on their earbuds and play music, listen to a book or dial up a podcast in an attempt to keep their minds focused while they run.


Running long distances (and I believe anything over two miles is long distance!) effectively, requires perseverance and focus -- two of the same qualities needed when making an Overboard Life. The writer of Hebrews said “run with perseverance” and “fix your eyes on Jesus” to help us get through each of our races. You have to hold the course when things get tough, you have to persevere with laser-like focus so that you can experience the joy of the journey, and the thrill of finishing well.


A few years ago I became mildly obsessed with the story of Ernest Shackleton. He was a great sea captain who was determined to be the first man to plant a flag for his country (England) on the South Pole. He loaded up his ship, The Endurance, and headed south with his crew. His journey is one of the most amazing in exploration history, for what they endured and survived.


A picture of Shackleton's boat, The Endurance, trapped by the ice. (Picture courtesy of CNN media.)

After being stopped by ice, everything that could have gone wrong, did. The ship was crushed by ice floes, many of the emergency supplies were lost and the sled dogs became sick and injured. Realizing they were marooned on a floating island of ice, they sought shelter, tried to find another party of travelers (the Germans were also making haste for South Pole fame) and ultimately built an ice-cave “home” where they weathered a horrendous winter as prisoners on the South Pole.


Months after first getting stuck, Shackleton and two other men made a desperate last-gasp attempt to get help at a Norwegian whaling village on a very small, very remote island in the middle of the southern seas. With no navigational equipment except a compass, taking off in what became an absolutely horrendous storm, and riding in a life boat that had been salvaged from the wreck, Shackleton and his two-man crew headed for the island that was like finding a needle in a haystack.


While 20 and 30 foot swells crashed down on them, the clouds blocked out the moon and stars and with the knowledge that being even 1/2 a degree off would mean certain failure and death, they made every adjustment they could to keep the path. Shackleton’s chief navigation officer kept the boat on course. He never let them waiver, even when it meant facing the eye of the storm. And as the clouds finally rolled back, as the storm slowly relented, a when a small beam of moonlight shined down upon calmer waters, Shackleton and his two fellow sailors beheld the most beautiful sight in the world -- the tiny island they had aimed their boat toward.


They had kept the course and the reward was theirs -- Shackleton, and all but one member of his crew, were rescued.


Shackleton and his crew became famous. He would lead a few other expeditions in his day, but ultimately would settle to become a fairly well-known speaker. He would talk about his crew’s hardships, he would share the lessons he learned about leadership and courage, and he would never forget the journey that changed his life (probably more than if he had been the first to the South Pole!).


You and I will experience storms in life. We will have every reason to be derailed and to give up. The clouds will block the sky, the swells will come crashing down and the possibility of hitting the right mark will seem as unlikely as Shackleton and his crew finding a tiny fishing village in the middle of the ocean. And that’s when we must hold the course most of all. That’s when we must run with perseverance and focus, and we must, we must, hold fast.


Jesus didn’t promise us an easy life, He just promised us one that is possible with His help. In Matthew 14, Jesus didn’t call Peter out of the boat onto warm, tropical and calm waters. Instead He called Peter out of the boat in a storm, in the middle of the night, with waves that had been slamming against the boat, and with a wind that was howling -- that’s the environment where Peter was summoned. And I believe that’s the environment where life’s greatest joys, victories, accomplishments and faith-stretching occur. The eleven men who stayed in the boat never experienced the thrill of walking on water, the joy of strolling through the storm and even the rush of being rescued by Jesus. They stayed put.


In the same way, the joy of the victory comes to the runners who finish, not to the spectators who watch, and not to the runners who give up along the way. I’m learning that the speed at which I run is far less important than the perseverance and focus I run with. On a future fall day in October, I don’t think I’m going to be that concerned with how fast I run my first half-marathon, but rather I will be thrilled that I run and that I finish what I set out this year to do.


Are you running the race God has set you on? Are you running with perseverance even in the tough seasons and storms? Are you focused on Jesus, the One who will always supply you with exactly what you need, when you need it? He promises strength, resources, joy, hope, comfort, help and more if you will just get out of the boat and start running your race.


The greatest life you can have will not be measured in dollars or by how much property you own or stuff you possess. The greatest life will be lived in faith-based experiences, driven by God-sized dreams and full of the joy and satisfaction that can only come from those who run the race God has given them to run. And that race will require great perseverance and focus.


I’m gearing up for the second half of my life, and, with God’s help, I’m ready to hold the course whatever may come. I’m trying to keep my gaze fixed on the Author and Perfecter of my faith, so that when my race ends, I will have finished with joy and strength and will be hearing the words, “Well done, you good an faithful servant.”


39 down, 1 to go!


Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!


I'm glad I'm narrow minded.


Have you ever been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Even as a youth pastor, people would ask me what my plans were when I finally got a real job. Pushaw. As if playing dodgeball with students while eating pizza and chugging Mt. Dew isn’t a real job! Puhleeease.  

I have nothing but admiration for the men who guard the Tomb of the Unknowns Soldiers, regardless of the weather!

I remember being asked that question as a child. The answer would change frequently. At first I wanted to be in the military, that seemed so courageous to me and today I still have such esteem for those that serve our nation in the armed forces. (Thank you for your service!) After that I moved to less heroic and more glamorous pursuits usually involving pro sports. For a while it was football and then it was definitely basketball. I was pretty sure an L.A. Laker’s talent scout would see me shooting hoops on my home playground, his jaw would hit the black top when he saw me drain a dozen threes in a row and he’d offer me a contract on the spot.


For a while I had a pretty well-documented movie career. Let’s just say that the Ram Joe movie collection represents some of the most compelling movies ever made (at least in my house). They had drama, action, romance, and lots of awesome (terrible) special effects and creative (red neck) editing techniques. Truly these masterpieces should have launched my acting career but alas, they never made it into the right hands.


As a child, my focus was all over the place. What seemed so good one day, was discarded for the next great thing the next day. If I saw something really cool on TV or a friend was totally into something, I suddenly found my vision being redirected.


With my 40th just a few days away, what I’m dubiously calling the “half-way point of my life,” I’m realizing how much more I want my vision to become narrow. I truly want to be more and more narrow minded as I enter phase two of my life.


Ok, not narrow-minded like it’s often defined in our culture (although sometimes I’d be happy for that label, too!). I’m talking about spending my energy and focus on fewer and fewer tasks; expanding the time and attention I give a few goals and dreams.


Over the past few weeks as I’ve been writing these 40 essays over a period of 40 days, I’ve had to be hyper focused on my daily writing goals. Each morning my iPhone alarm has called me out of sweet slumber at 5:55 so that I have time to meet with God through prayer and Bible reading, wake the older kids for school, and begin, or finish up, a blog post. Each evening I go to bed putting my daily thoughts on paper (literally, writing them in a journal) and lining up my next day’s writing projects.


During this time I’ve also been working on several other Overboard projects. Not only am I writing each day, but I’ve been working with editors, artists, web designers, authors and other people with skills related to these ongoing tasks. Much of my free time has been spent expanding the potential for Overboard Ministries to challenge people in how they are living in response to God.


What haven’t I done much of? I haven’t spent a lot time on social media stalking (a habit that’s easy for me to fall into). I have spent less than ten minutes, over the past 40 days, playing iPhone/iPad games. I haven’t wasted much time scanning news channels for the latest political scandals and opinions, and I have all but removed myself from major sports events like the NFL draft, the NHL playoffs and the NBA finals (three activities that I normally follow with some interest). My narrow mindedness has forced me to make some choices.


And you know what? I’m good with that; because my focus has been more refined, my time has been better spent. Traci and I are as connected as we’ve ever been, even as we navigate some tough times for our family. I’ve been able to engage my children more deliberately, pour myself effectively into projects at work (my “real” job!) and experience the lessons I need to learn while figuring out how to run my first half marathon. I’m enjoying picking up a new hobby, reading some challenging books and finding fun, creative and inexpensive ways to build awesome memories in our NW Michigan home. Narrow vision has been very good for me.


CrossI notice that Paul got very narrow in his vision as he aged. In Philippians he wrote, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...” Paul’s vision became super narrow -- he was willing to discard everything that distracted his vision from living a Christ-centered life.


In the same way, the writer of Hebrews issues us the same admonition in regards to being narrow minded. My theme verses for 2014 are located in Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...” Ditching sin is not optional for those trying to please God, but the writer of Hebrews takes it a step further when he writes about “anything that hinders.”


When we remove the things that hinder our vision, when we become more focused, we can then more easily accomplish the second part of that passage, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...” In other words, when we remove sin and hinderances from our lives, we become more narrow minded!


I’m looking at “Life, part 2” and wondering what it will take to make it the best it can be. I don’t want to be at the end wishing I had been less distracted and I don’t want to realize that I invested a lot of time caring about things that didn’t really matter. This life is the only one we have to give as an act of worship to our Savior, and I for one, want to make it count.


And you know what’s most interesting? The more narrow my vision becomes, the more time I spend enjoying the people and things of life that I love most. My narrow focus has increased my family time, my writing time, my exercising time, my wife time, my church time and even my work time. I imagine that if I continue to refine my focus, those things will become even bigger parts of my daily routine.


How’s your vision today? How narrow minded are you? Let’s clear out some of the distractions so that our lives can be spent on the people and activities that matter most. A focused life on the water, is truly a great life!


38 down, 2 to go!


Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

My first concussion


I was about to start this blog with, “I remember my first concussion like it was yesterday...” However, that would be a lie, because I actually remember nothing about my first concussion. Most of what I know has been told to me, and the few memories I have are a little disjointed. But the basic facts go something like this...  

It was during a morning PE class in my 8th grade year. We were playing softball during the Spring semester and sometime while we were outside playing or warming up I took a wack-a-poo on the back of my dome. The stories that came out from various “eye witnesses” were many and varied, but sometime after that, I collapsed while playing in the outfield.


My first memories of the events of that day are waking up in the training room. My friend Danny was sitting there in tears, just talking to me, trying to keep me alert. Next I remember being in the ambulance going to the hospital and discovering that I knew the ambulance driver as a member of our church. Next I remember Bob Smith coming in with a bag of Peanut M & Ms and we played poker using them as chips. Finally, I remember being in recovery the following day. That’s about it.


Apparently during my hospital stay, I had many visitors. I remember none of them. If you were one of them, please don’t take that personally...I don’t even remember my mom being there!


My youth pastor, Bob Smith, showed up with the M & Ms and  brining with him some pictures of a recent trip we had taken. As the story goes, I would glance through the 15-20 photos he brought, laugh at some, ask questions about others, and then set them down next to my bed. Moments later I would pick them up and repeat the same laughter and questions at the same pictures. I repeated this several times until my mom took the pictures away even though I declared, “Hey...I haven’t seen those yet!”


While my grandmother was checking in on her favorite grandson, my friends Sonia and Buffy (along with some one else) came to visit me. Like the well-mannered child that I was, I introduced them to my grandmother. Every 2 minutes. For about half an hour. I just wanted to make sure they knew each other well.


Those first few hours were pretty scary for my family. If I was scared, I soon forgot about it and moved on to M & Ms and pictures. My brother Phil told me, years later, how worried my dad was seeing his son so loopy. I think my parents always knew there were some wires criss-crossed, I just don’t think they expected it to show itself so severely and suddenly.


That’s what makes the events of that particular episode of my life so “memorable”; in an instant, life was changed dramatically and unpredictably. No one woke up that day and thought, “you know what, I’ve got a feeling that Joe is going to crack his melon today, get a serious concussion, spend a night in the hospital and miss a week of school with serious headaches and a mild case of amnesia!”


But that’s how life is, isn’t it? Just when you think you know the routine, just when you and I get comfortable with “normal,” something happens to radically change our perspective. A car accident. A doctor’s prognosis. A friend suddenly passes away. Something valuable gets stolen. A child becomes seriously ill. A grandparent takes a painful fall. (all of these events I took off my Facebook feed from the past seven days). Like the commercial says, “Life comes at you hard.”

Moody quote


There are no guarantees in this world but one: All of us are inching closer to the day our life ends in this world and begins in the next. That’s the only event we can be certain of, we are all going to pass on at some point. And while we know the reality of that end, we do not know the timing or the circumstances in which it will occur. So the question is: Are you living with the end in mind?


My 40th birthday has really brought about the somber reality that half of my life has passed (statistically). Even if I live to be 90 or 100, the fact remains that I am approaching the second half of my life. That reality has caused me to think more about what matters most to me, and how I want to spend the years, months, weeks, days, hours and seconds that remain. I’m asking God to help me narrow my vision to invest in the people and activities that matter most, so that what I do today, will live long after I’m gone.


I was in Chicago recently, visiting The Moody Church and a museum at Moody College that describes the life and times of its founder, Dwight L Moody. One quote really caught my attention as it pertained to Moody's vision for the school: "...when I am gone, I shall leave some grand men and women behind."


How’s your focus today? Are you living with the end in mind? Are you living in such a way that whatever God sends your way, whatever obstacles pop up on your journey, you’re in a place to trust the One who walks with you?


Life is full of uncertainty, but nothing catches God off guard. As you walk the Overboard Life, you walk with the One who know the future and knows the great plans He has for you. Are you trusting Him with His plans?

10 down, 30 to go.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

I used to wear a cowboy hat...don't judge me!



At some point in my early childhood, I took to wearing a dark red, felt cowboy hat. It was large even for my over-sized melon, but I wore it often and wore it with pride. Even after the day it had a fateful encounter with a ditch full of water.  

My brother Dan and his friend, Danny (another one of my "older brothers"), were using me as a participant in an experiment they were conducting on human aerodynamics. Danny (I think) had grabbed one of my arms and one of my legs and was spinning in a circle temporarily providing me with the gift of flight, all the while, I was proudly wearing my beloved cowboy hat.


As I neared the sound barrier in my circular flight pattern, the G-forces on my cranium exceeded it’s capacity to grip my hat and suddenly, my beloved felt head covering was also floating through the air. In a moment seared into my memory, I still see the wide-brimmed beauty returning to earth and landing in the neighbors ditch, that just happened to be full of water. In my first book, Project Joseph, I described the scene like this: “She (my daughter BJ) produced an ocean of big, hot tears like I did at her age when my favorite cowboy hat was carelessly launched from head into a mud puddle...oh the agony!”


There are some who say the scream produced from my lungs that day actually registered on the richter scale. Windows at my neighbors’ houses shattered. Dogs started barking from miles away and the world mourned the permanently disfigured, dark red, felt cowboy hat that came forth from that dark pond.


And you better believe I still wore it with pride.


It’s funny how attached we can get to things in this life. Why an 8-year-old boy fell in love with a red felt cowboy hat is beyond me. (As I write this I glanced up to my closet and see a collection of a dozen baseball caps -- I’m beginning to think I have a hat-issue.) But all of us have those things we cling to -- that stuff that just means the world to us. My sister had a bear that she still keeps close by her bed. The thing has leprosy and yet she loves her “Tenny” to this day.


Cowboy hats and Teddy Bears might seem childish to you, but that’s just because we haven’t exposed what you’re clinging to. Maybe it’s a nice set of golf clubs, a new car, the clothes in your closet, the phone in your pocket or the ring on your finger. It could be something a little less tangible but still consuming. You know, like your job, or the current relationship you are in or even the money in your wallet or bank account. As we get older, we’re still just as possessive and clingy as ever, it’s just that the expense of those items is higher; the value of them runs deeper into our psyche.


Joe in a hat

I can look back now and see how silly it was to love that cowboy hat like I did. In 20 more years, I wonder if I’ll look back to today and see the same silliness directed toward another "Cowboy Hat?"


In 2014 I’m “running my race” in every sense of the word. Physically I’m joining my wife in a 1/2 marathon in October, so I’m working hard to reclaim some healthy habits and lifestyle changes to get me there. Mentally I’m working on my third book, preparing to re-launch Overboard Ministries with a new logo, new web site and some big God-sized goals. Spiritually I’m trying to reclaim some important habits, working on leading my family to connect passionately and regularly with God and eager to build a deeper life of prayer and devotion.


Throughout this year’s race, Hebrews 12:1-2 is serving as my daily mantra: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith...” There are so many “things that hinder” my race every day, and the writer of Hebrews urges me to throw them off! He challenges me to get rid of anything that would come between me and keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus.


Now that I’m a closet runner, I’m making choices about food and exercise in order to make sure I’m ready for race day in October. In making some of these changes I’ve begun to realize how much some of these choices have a hold on my life. I’m realizing how deep some of my bad eating habits are, and how much I use junk-food like a drug to get me through the day. It’s not that eating a Big Mac is wrong, it’s just that it’s not helping me get where I want to be.


In the Overboard Life, God calls us to sacrifice much of what we can see and feel in order to step out in faith and focus on the One who walks on water! I know this -- I’ve spent too many days in the boat clinging to stuff that seemed so important to me, instead of trusting God for the next step. I’ve wept over many “Cowboy Hats” in my life, only to realize later how little those things really meant to me.


What are you clinging to? Are you holding so tightly on to something that you are still at the starting line? What you think is a treasure, is really an anchor, and instead of holding it close-fisted, you need to release it to God in order to run your race. It’s not that God wants to take everything away from us, it’s that He wants us to keep Him #1, to keep Him as the greatest object of our affections.


Over the past 40-years I can see a lot of stuff that has come between me and God. If God grants me another 40 years, I want to make sure I have fewer and fewer “Cowboy Hats,” and with His help, I want to have a more precise vision of the things that really matter. I know a life with God allows me to experience deeper joy, greater satisfaction and a peaceful contentment that only comes from Him, and only comes when I keep Him front and center in my life.


Is it time to get rid of a few Cowboy Hats in your life? I know I’m ready for God to grab me by the arms and legs, spin me in a crazy and wild adventure for Him, all the while letting my Cowboy Hats fly off into the sunset.


7 down, 33 to go.


Go ahead and take the plunge (your Cowboy Hats need to be cleaned, anyway!), life is always better on the water!

Check mate!


By Joe Castaneda Check mateHave you every played four games of chess at once? I’m not a great chess player by any stretch, although I enjoy the game from time-to-time. Over the years, however, I have taught each of my children how to play and they love to take me on. Occasionally, like a few days back, all four of them will challenge me at the same time.

Despite my youngest being only 8, when playing against four opponents at one time, the challenge of each board is multiplied. During out last set of matches, I came away with a perfect 4-0 record, but I should have faced defeat on at least one board, and probably two. Afterward, while talking with my son AJ, I thought of some valuable life lessons learned while playing against my kids. Here they are, listed according to the order that each child fell to my less-than-clever chess strategies:

Don’t get cocky:

Tati Chess“Pride comes before a fall” Solomon wrote, “and a haughty spirit before destruction.” Tatiana, our oldest child, and the one who is the most competitive of the batch, often plays chess very aggressively. On about the 5th move of the game, I made a costly mistake due to the chess board we were using. (It’s from South Africa, and I confused the role of the Zebra with the role of the Water Buffalo. Makes perfect sense, now, right?) That  mistake ended up costing me a Zebra (knight) and a Water Buffalo (bishop). I also lost a key position that left my king exposed.

Tati was very excited by her conquest, and while laughing at my mistake, she charged without caution into what she thought was a sure victory. The problem was, in her pride over one victory, she left her king without an escape route, and what should have been a smooth win for her, turned into a bitter defeat because she overestimated her position of control.

As a pastor for over 16 years, I saw so many people, adults and students, have significant spiritual falls after experiencing great victories. I see the same problem in my own life, too. Have you ever gone on a diet, lost a bunch of weight, and experienced the joy of health victories? Then, you convince yourself you can get off the wagon for a week-long vacation or a short season of celebration or a [insert reason here] and suddenly find yourself back at the same place you were when you started the diet originally. Statistically, you’ve probably even put on more weight than you lost!

That one minor victory gave you too much confidence, and you came to believe that the possibility of defeat was off the table. The problem is your own nature is working against you. Change is hard. Good habits don’t come easy. Because of the sin nature, your flesh is fighting against you and every time you have a victory in one area of your life the stakes get higher in the other areas. The enemy of your souls wants nothing more than for you to believe you’ve got it figured out and that victory is certain.

We definitely need to celebrate the victories in life, but we need to be careful that we don’t get so caught up in the victories that we lose sight of the upcoming challenges. Pride is a powerful tool in the hands of our enemy.

Don’t get distracted by the small stuff:

My daughter Celina, the 8-year-old, has actually learned the game pretty well. She can CJ Chessimplement a little strategy and she can think a move or two ahead. It’s fun to watch her play.

However, when it comes to winning, she gets really hung up on the small stuff. Celian has an obsession with taking pawns. First, she starts the game with the goal to capture my king, but usually ends up losing her’s because of being distracted by the little pawns. My rook will be reeking havoc on her side of the board, and she’s gloating over the capture of a Trojan-Horse like pawn. Secondly, she is constantly comparing the number of captured opponents she has, with the number of captured opponents I have. She feels like she is winning when she has more pieces, regardless of the situation on the board.

I think a lot of the distractions you and I face come from the small stuff we encounter in life. Our daily disciplines and our movement toward key goals and dreams get derailed because of something the glitters, problems that we allow to redirect us or the proverbial “Squirrel” mentality that makes for a fun chase, but an exhausting and unproductive day.

2014 is the year for me to “run my race”, and Hebrews 12:1-2 talks about this very issue of distraction. The author writes, “Throwing off everything that hinders…” and “fix[ing] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” In order to stay on course, I have to remove distractions and be willing to keep Jesus at the center of what I do. If I want to “win” at life, if I want to step out of the comfort of the boat and get on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom (Matthew 14), then I have to stay on track. Goals and dreams become reality when I don’t allow the daily small stuff to get in the way of what God has put on my heart to do!

Don’t wait when it’s time to move:

AJ ChessMy son AJ had me over a barrel after a dozen moves. He laid a trap and as I was moving quickly between boards I foolishly fell right into it. I lost my queen, my knight and a bishop and he gave up a rook and a pawn.

At least, I should have. Honestly, it was one of the best moves I’ve seen him make in all the games we’ve played together. The problem was, AJ didn’t move on it. He sat there and tried to keep me pinned down while he set up another series of moves. I actually left my queen in her situation for 4 or 5 more moves before I realized his caution was perfect for my survival. I flipped the momentum with a calculated sacrifice, saved my queen and then trapped his king with a queen/rook combo.

I wonder how often we miss opportunity because we “keep waiting for things to line up” when God has practically paved the path with giant arrows that say “Go this way now!” We keep waiting for more wisdom and information to come our way, when God has already given us all we need.

When Traci and I were considering moving from Salem, Oregon to Lake Ann, Michigan, I found myself in a situation where God had paved the path with those giant arrows. Then, after the Lord answered all my requests and satisfied all my concerns, I decided I needed more confirmation. I started a 3-day fast with my friend Danny Ray. Mid-afternoon on the first day of the fast, I realized that my fast was pointless. God had answered my prayers, had provided information and details to specific requests and used key people in my life to confirm His working. I was waiting when it was time to move.

I can’t even begin to explain the relief I felt when I finally called Ken (my new boss) and gave in to God’s clear leading. I didn’t need any more time or data or faith, I just needed to follow what He had already provided. AJ had a better strategy, he had played a smarter game and he had set up the perfect scenario for victory. Then, when he should have moved he waited for even better timing, which never came. His delay cost him the game. I’m thankful Traci and I didn’t sit back and wait any longer, we would have missed out on a great work of God in our lives, at our church and at the camp.

Don’t forget why you’re playing:

BJ is my eleven year old who plays a pretty crazy game, with little strategy and lots of BJ Chessimpulse. Sometimes her lack of strategy makes it difficult to beat her, and tonight she was the last to fall. She got crazy obsessed with going after my queen, and sacrificed a lot to get her. The end result was she didn’t have anything left to protect her king, or enough strength to go after mine. She forgot that capturing my queen wasn’t the object of the game.

Too many of us are chasing after the wrong goals. We’ve forgotten why we’re playing, or what we’re playing for. We’re living life impulsively, chasing after secondary dreams, settling for lesser victories and content to not have what God really wants for us.

A few years ago I remember reading a story of a young girl who received a present from her dad, a gift of beautiful, but fake pearls. The young girl was thrilled and she held on to those pearls like a highly valued treasured. A year later, her dad approached her and asked for the gift back, saying he wanted her to trust him with the gift. He didn’t force her to give them back, but instead just patiently waited. Once a week, her dad asked for the fake pearls and the daughter constantly said no. Finally, after a year of asking, when the dad came into the room to tuck her in, the daughter sat on her bed with tears in her eyes, and the fake pearls in her open palm. “Here daddy” she said, “I want to give them back to you.”

With a smile her dad took the pearls, and gave his daughter a hug. Then he pulled out a little felt box and opened it up. Inside was a string of real pearls, a string he had been eager to give to his daughter in exchange for the plastic pearls that had come to mean so much. He was just waiting for her to trust him and to cling to what was really important. Trusting her dad was more important than holding on to the beautiful, but worthless pearls.

What’s holding you back on your journey today? Are you arrogant about the small victories, forgetting that more challenges are coming? Have you been distracted by the small stuff? Are you waiting for “the perfect timing” even though God has already cleared the path for you? Have you forgotten why you’re playing or what you’re playing for?

Living the Overboard Life requires a commitment to humility, a focus on the important details, a mentality toward action and an unrelenting commitment to an eternal purpose. Who knew chess could show us so much about living the Overboard Life?

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

Three thoughts for the weekend


While I’m still enjoying the turkey leftovers, Thanksgiving is definitely in the rearview mirror and Christmas is on the horizon. As I was thinking about the month of December and celebrating the birth of our Savior, I thought of three activities that will be a part of my Christmas celebration and might help you keep ‘The Reason for the Season’ in focus. Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 10.38.58 AM

Bless a total stranger this Christmas: Over the past couple of years, my family has done Christmas Light awards in our town. We visit a local trophy shop and each of us has a trophy made with our name. (AJ’s trophy read, “The Castaneda Family Christmas Light Trophy: The AJ Award” etc…) Then for about two weeks, we would drive around looking at beautiful light displays and making notes of which ones we liked best. When the night arrived, each of us chose one house and presented them with a trophy and a plate of baked goods.

The responses we’ve received make it all worth the effort. People just don’t know what to do with their trophy, but all of them are thankful. Often we hear stories of Christmas traditions, we are invited in to houses and shown special decorations and interior lighting, and we’ve been given baked goodies in return. Blessing a total stranger is a great way to keep Jesus at the center of your celebration.

Serve in a shelter this Christmas: Some years ago my family started the tradition of serving breakfast burritos while handing out scarves, socks and jackets to the homeless on Christmas morning. So before we enjoy any of our regular family celebrations, we bundle up, head out to nearby location and minister to those with bigger needs than ours. My parents, my siblings and all the kids and grandkids participate in this simple ministry that warms hearts and stomachs on Christmas day.

Attend a Christmas Eve service at church: There are so many events and programs pulling for your time at Christmas, but make sure one of the activities that wins is a Christmas Eve service at a nearby church. Many churches offer “candlelight” services where the old Christmas carols and hymns are sung, and where the story of Jesus’ birth is told. Attending a service where the music is beautiful, the sharing is rich and the story of Jesus is conveyed is a powerful way to celebrate Christmas.

I hope you enjoy your traditions this Christmas, and I hope you maybe create some new ones. Most of all, I hope you remember that the foundation for the Overboard Life is found in the person of Jesus. He entered this world as a baby and grew to become the Lamb of God -- the perfect sacrifice able to pay the eternal price for our sins. Celebrate Him this Christmas.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water!

That's how winning is done!


My sports-movie-junkie-buddies and I love to debate the place of particular movies in our Top-10 sports movie lists. We disagree on a lot of films (I admit, I think Field of Dreams should be a top-10 all time!), but when it comes to Rocky…he always makes our lists! Personally, I’m a Rocky IV kind of a guy, because it is so Over the Top (which is another great Stallone movie!) and has that great moment where Rocky’s opponent realizes that Rocky can’t be beat and Rocky realizes his unbeatable opponent is suddenly very beatable. Ahhhh, makes me smile just thinking about it.

But today’s speech comes from Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie in the Rocky franchise. Right before Rocky gives this big speech, his son has just told him that he’s tired of being Rocky’s kid. The boy believes life is stacked against him because of his famous father (Rocky) and the son can’t make it on his own because, right now, there are too many odds against him.

In classic Stallone style, Rocky tells his boy the truth about his current situation. Rocky pleads with his boy to stop being a victim and to step up and own his choices. Seriously, you need to watch this film, it has very little to do with boxing and so much to do with life:


I love the message: “You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” (Has there been a more eloquent or prolific voice of our day than Rocky?)

The Apostle Paul talked about the beating life deals out in 2 Corinthians 4:7-9:

“We are hard pressed on every side…perplexed…persecuted…struck down…”

The enemy deals out punches and kicks and full frontal assaults on you, especially when you are trying to live the Overboard Life. But check out Paul’s encouragement in the “…” of the above quotes:

“We are hard pressed on every side, BUT NOT crushed.”

“Perplexed, BUT NOT in despair.”

“Persecuted BUT NOT abandoned.”

“Stuck down BUT NOT destroyed.”

How do we live in the hope of these statements? A little later in the chapter Paul gives us the secret: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” The key to standing up and moving forward when life hits hard is to look past the painful and difficult circumstances around us, and to look toward Jesus, whose eternal plan is for our good, and ultimately for His glory. When we focus on Him -- we “can get hit and keep moving forward!”

Don’t give up when you feel bombarded. Don’t surrender ground when the enemy tries to overwhelm you. Don’t relent under the pressure of opposition. For you are not crushed, in despair or abandoned, and you are certainly not destroyed. Through Christ, you will win the prize. And, as Rocky says, “That’s how winning is done!”

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is better on the water.

Suck it up!


I’m in the middle of my 100 Day Challenge that started off 2013. Starting at about day 25 and going through day 65-70, is the time that I find the hardest when it comes to these 100 Day Challenges. It’s hard because the fun of starting is way in the rear-view mirror, and the joy of the finish line isn’t on the horizon yet. finish-line

You ever feel that when it comes to your goals, dreams or passions? It can be hard to keep going when you can’t see the end. Today’s video was perfect, hitting on the issue of perseverance. Check out my notes:



What one character trait is more important than talent when it comes to achieving your goals? What trait is more powerful than intelligence? Which quality is more resilient than strategy or planning or vision or goal setting? Perseverance!


Before any goal or dream of value can be achieved, you will experience setbacks. Your character will be tested and tried and you will have ample opportunity to give up in the face of obstacles. Perseverance is the quality by which we persist through all of the obstacles and setbacks. Perseverance isn’t about avoiding obstacles and set backs, it’s about NEVER stopping, about RISING up each time we fall and about FINISHING the goal with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.


Perseverance can be our most powerful ally for two key reasons. First, anyone can demonstrate perseverance. It’s not a skill or talent that some have and some don’t. Perseverance is a mind-set, it’s a choice to persist regardless of the size, severity or quantity of the challenges being faced. Choosing to persevere is choosing to keep God’s goals for your life at the heart of what you do.


The second reason that perseverance is a powerful ally is that it doesn’t require a particular pace. As Gary Ryan Blair stated in today’s 100-day Challenge video, perseverance isn’t a speed issue; perseverance is an issue about finishing the task or goal or dream at whatever cost for whatever length of time it takes.


While perseverance doesn’t involve pace, it most certainly involves consistency, details, commitment, adaptability, character and heart. The man or woman who makes the choice to persevere, can overcome shortages in talent, money and IQ. Perseverance is a goal-setters trump card!


This is a tough topic for me. Generally I think I finish what I start, but I can also look back over my life and see those unfinished projects that lie in ruins. Whether it’s a house project that needs my attention, a ministry project that never got finished, or a relationship that needs repair -- I have some areas of my life where I have chosen to quit rather than to finish. I also have a few goals that, for whatever reason, I chose to give up on. Some, I know, God put on my heart to finish but I fell short because the obstacles seemed to big or the support too small.


Today I’m choosing to persevere in each and every task I lay out. I’m choosing to fire up some of my goals for this 100-day Challenge and to bring them back to my attention. I’m choosing to take on a mindset like Paul: I will run the race God has given me and I will finish in such a way as to make my God pleased! Are you running to finish?


So go ahead and take the plunge -- and stick with it! -- because life is always better on the water!