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Overboard Blog

Living the extraordinary life of faith!

How, What and WHY

Joseph Castaneda

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Why?

This last week Traci and I had another presentation, another opportunity to share about the vision and dream of launching Crossroads Farm in NW Michigan. We shared with some friends about what we're doing, how we hope they will join our prayer and support teams, and how Crossroads Farm is reaching teens in rural America.

But as we shared, I was reminded that the what and how matter a great deal, but they don't come close to touching the importance of the WHY: why are we investing in this ministry in order to reach rural teenagers in NW Michigan?

Mark 2:16-17 states our reason very well. Jesus was talking to a group of men who were wondering why a great teacher like Jesus would hang out with unlovely, unlikeable and marginalized people. His answer was simple: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick..."

Our little town needs Jesus. 92% of teenagers have no church affiliation. 80% of adults do not attend any religious service with regularity. There is so much hurt in such a small community and we long to work with other Jesus followers (and we thank God that we are meeting many!) who want to help this community, too, and especially help reach the young people with the Gospel.

There is no doubt in my mind that Crossroads Farm is a cool addition to this town. But no amount of cool will replace the why: to give students a chance to yes or no to the Gospel of Jesus.

Why we do anything, matters immensely. How are you helping to reach the sick, the hurting and the people marginalized by culture and society? We do that because it’s what Jesus has called us to, so when we focus on the why, the how takes care of itself.

Whatever You Do...

Joseph Castaneda

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Commit to the Lord

Thinking back to when Traci and I moved our family to Michigan five years ago, it must seem funny to God what plans we had made. We knew we were following His lead, and without a shadow of doubt we know that everything that transpired was because of His perfect planning, but we thought we knew the details of His work. We thought we had grasped the precision with which He orchestrates life events and we were trusting our understanding as much as we were trusting His leading.

When everything hit the fan, we understood the difference between what we know, and what He knows; between our planning and His. As created finite beings, we can only work with what's within our realm of knowledge and understanding, but with God, He sees the first from the last, the start from the finish and He sees all of it for everyone at any given moment.

These words of Solomon (put together by my good friend, Danny Ray), remind us to commit our work to the Lord, while leaving the setting of plans and course to Him. Yes, we must make plans and prayerful pursue the works/paths/passions/love that God has put in our hearts, but ultimately we must do so with an openness for the Almighty Creator God of the universe to intervene in order to give us what's best according to His limitless knowledge!

I hope you are committing your ways to the Lord, but leaving room for Him to establish the path. Then, no matter how difficult the journey, you know you are exactly where He wants you to be.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Joseph Castaneda

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Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is always an interesting one to me. In our area, many of the schools are in session, in part, because the annual school calendar doesn’t line up well with this third Monday in January (this is the start of finals week, and missing Monday is certainly not convenient for students, teachers or administrators). In many parts of our country, people will march, usually peacefully, or gather in some public meeting space in order to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for the values on which he stood, and for which he ultimately died.

Volumes of books and countless hours of documentaries have circulated about the history of this man and the movement he invigorated. These tomes reveal the depth of character he displayed in the face of fierce, vile, and often explicitly evil attacks on him and the movement he was stirring to action in attempt to make the world aware of the disgraceful inequality that was present in America in the 1960s.

You can also read of his character flaws, his extramarital relationships, and the dangers and influences of some of his closest companions. Dr. King was a man surrounded by admirers, and people who longed to be a part of something big; they wanted to share in the picture he painted, the dream he articulated. He was also surrounded by scoundrels, and people who sought to attack him, or even profit from his work. And no matter what you read or watch, you will find it all steeped with opinion as authors and producers try to make sense of a man and movement that emerged in the backdrop of 1960’s America, a time with so much angst and cultural conflict.

I won’t pretend to know what Dr. King would think of today’s America were he here to lead a movement. It’s hard to imagine what he would say about what happened in Ferguson, MO in 2014, about how he would respond to campus outrage over conservative/liberal guest speakers, or how he would support (or not) the #MeToo movement in its current form. Would he have been behind Judge Kavenaugh or would he have organized a protest? Would he meet with President Trump or would he lead immigrants in peaceful marches at the border?

It’s impossible to know the answers to those questions, but there is one thing I can say with some confidence: he would urge everyone to stop fighting hatred with hatred, and to start winning the war with love. My favorite MLK quote is this: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” This last week I scrolled through my Twitter feed and in an admittedly small sample-size, over 50% of the tweets were attacks on others: Trump, Pelosi, Brady (those ones I find sympathy with!), a young man going eye-to-eye with another protestor in DC, the March for Life, the March for Women, some local municipality that apparently can’t fix a traffic problem in their town, Gillette razors, and a rant against some high school prep basketball referee that is apparently in need of glasses.

My Facebook feed sometimes isn’t much better and my newsfeeds are much worse. It doesn’t matter from what side of the aisle you get your news, it’s all loaded with angst, frustration, and ultimately hatred toward anyone who disagrees. It seems we have lost (maybe we never had?) an ability to disagree with one another without name calling, character assassinating, or over-shouting our opponent. It seems that our anger and frustration has spilled over to such hatred, that we can’t listen and we certainly can’t admit our faults or be willing to make changes. Our hated has become so intense that anyone who opposes our ideals, opinions, or politics, is considered stupid, is censured, and probably should be sued.

Angst and frustration, even anger, can be emotions that lead us to action and to create change, but hatred is the enemy of change. Hatred leads to impulsive, punitive responses and hatred expresses itself in revenge. Hatred needs to be right at all costs, hatred urges a person to compromise their character in order to “win,” and hatred blinds the eyes and vision of those who promote it.

Jesus knew the dangers of hatred, and so He told His followers, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” This was a radical shift in Jewish culture, a culture that was steeped in angst and frustration over Rome’s governing policies in the land. The “righteous” people of Jesus’ day had advocated hatred toward their oppressors and violent revolution if necessary, and Jesus’ voice stands in stark contrast: love your enemies, and pray for your persecutors.

I wonder if Dr. King had those words in mind when he talked about the burden of hate? There is a right way to stand up for the oppressed. There is a right way to speak to the problems of culture. There is a right way to voice opposition to political, religious, and cultural leaders and it is never from a position of hatred.

Maybe today, as we reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we would be wise to evaluate how much of our conversation flows from love, and how much flows from hatred. Maybe today we need to remove some social media posts that reflect a heart carrying the burden of hatred, and not one carrying the burden of Christ and His love. Maybe today we need to confess the sin of hating the people on the other side of political aisle, cultural debate, or social issue and do as Jesus said: love and pray for our enemies and persecutors.

Jesus didn’t turn a blind eye to social injustice. Jesus’s call for love wasn’t a way to weasel out of responsibility or an excuse to be passive. Quite the opposite: real love demands action, but it’s action that’s rooted in something—someone—greater than ourselves, because real love can only come from Christ. Thus Jesus would say, “…But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may sons [and daughters!] of your Father in heaven…”


Does your life reflect this kind of love?


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

Do you struggle with anger? My friend Terry Porter, founder of Health From the Inside Out, has a video course to address the root of anger while giving you the tools to combat it. Check out his course, and his web site, here: https://terry-porter.com/product/dealing-with-anger/

Hope

Joseph Castaneda

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Hope

Psalm 23:4 reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

I've read a lot of commentaries and devotional books on Psalm 23. Many of them have a compelling story about what David meant, or maybe even what particular mountain/valley he was referencing in the Psalm, but they all tell the same story: God is walking with us through the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn't send us on our way with a, "I'll meet you on the other side" pat on the back, but rather, He walks with us from one side to the other.

Winston Churchill is usually attributed with saying the following, "If you're going through hell...keep going." In many ways, whether he meant to or not, I think he was grabbing the theme of Psalm 23 and putting a WWII vernacular to it. He was telling the brave soldiers who would bring freedom to Europe, "Don't stop in the valley. Don't stop in the trenches (literally, the place of death for so many heroic young men). Don't stop until you are all the way across the battlefield."

Whatever you are facing today, remember God's great words in Psalm 130:5, and know that there is hope when you trust in the Lord. The God who allows you to walk into the valley of the shadow of death, walks with you, He comforts you, and He walks you through it!

So many of you have prayed us through our own journey, how can we pray you through yours? Send us an email at, overboard@overboardministries.com, and include your specific requests.

(Kristi Walker, one of our Overboard authors, wrote a book, especially targeted for women, dealing with the challenges of facing disappointment. Check out this resource in our bookstore and grab a paper or ebook version today!)

Disappointment: By Kristi Walker
12.99 14.99

DETOURS IN DISAPPOINTMENT

We all face disappointments in this life.  We long for romance but live alone.  Couples ache to become parents.  People let us down and sometimes our bodies do, too.  Nothing, apart from God, is truly disappointment-free.

Many times in life we chart our own course and are then shocked, frustrated, confused and even angry when the road we wanted to take is suddenly not a possibility. Detours should not be looked upon as negative turns of events, but as God's guidance.  Most of life's disappointments are actually appointments from God Himself! 

We have a choice: we can follow God in faithful trust, or we can step away from that trust on easy little side paths of resentment, worry, bitterness, or misery.  

In Disappointment: A subtle path away from God, Kristi will show you how to see the let-downs of life, thru the lens of God's character. He is the one that will never disappoint us, and by learning to trust Him with our biggest hurts, we find a path toward Him, and not away from Him.

(Click HERE for the Kindle version of this book)

We Should All Be A Little Leerie

Joseph Castaneda

This past weekend, Traci and I enjoyed a date, (something we try to do weekly) and after lunch, and a little shopping at Costco, we stopped by the local theater for a matinee viewing of the new Mary Poppins movie. We’d both heard reviews, good and bad, from friends who had previously viewed the film; it’s so hard to take something so iconic, and try to modernize it for a younger audience while keeping it familiar to an older audience. Some of our friends loved it, and others felt like it was a disservice to the magic Julie Andrews and Dick VanDyke had created back in 1964. (While we both loved the movie, this is not a critique or analysis of the film.)

If you haven’t seen it, I won’t ruin anything here, but in place of the Dick VanDyke chimney sweep character, a young man by the name of Jack plays a central role in the movie, and serves the community as a lamplighter. He is part of a number of fantastic musical numbers as he and his fellow lamplighters, or Leeries as they are known, start each day by lighting the city’s lamps after the sun has gone down, and end each day by putting them out, after the sun has come back up.

I’m not sure where the term “Leerie” first originated, though it is found in a Robert Louis Stevenson poem from the late 1800s. Here are the words to this short little poem, told from the perspective of a little child who longs to be a lamplighter:


My tea is nearly ready and the sun has left the sky.

It's time to take the window to see Leerie going by;

For every night at teatime and before you take your seat,

With lantern and with ladder he comes posting up the street.


Now Tom would be a driver and Maria go to sea,

And my papa's a banker and as rich as he can be;

But I, when I am stronger and can choose what I'm to do,

O Leerie, I'll go round at night and light the lamps with you!


For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door,

And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more;

And oh! before you hurry by with ladder and with light;

O Leerie, see a little child and nod to him to-night!

You see, these Leeries were out at night as the sun set, and they traveled through London turning on every lamp in the city, including the ones on each street corner, on the outside walls of businesses, and even the ones on peoples’ porches. Carrying or driving their ladders and/or long poles around, they quickly turned the city from darkness to light, and then just as quickly extinguished the flames when the sun returned the next morning. It was an important job in London in the late 1800’s thru the early 1900s, until automation, and eventually electricity, eliminated their role from society.

An iconic image from a London Leerie plying his trade from the early 1900s.

An iconic image from a London Leerie plying his trade from the early 1900s.

Not only were the Leeries responsible for lighting the city at night, they were also responsible to make sure the lamps had enough wick to operate, that the gas lines were properly functioning, that the lamps and glass were kept clean, and in many cases, were the unofficial watchmen of the city in the hours of the day/night when criminals would be looking for opportunities to break laws. Leeries were considered honorable men, helping people find their way through the city, demonstrating charity to those in need, and working the odd hours of the day and night when most others would prefer the comfort of a warm and dry shelter.

There are several great lines in the movie about the role of the Leeries, but I love how Stevenson captured it: “For we are very lucky, with a lamp before the door, And Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more…” This reminds me of the text in Matthew 5 where Jesus tells an audience, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Imagine if all of us who professed Christ demonstrated the qualities of a Leerie. We’d be packing our “equipment” with us everywhere we went, making sure we were always ready to serve when the opportunity arose. Each of us would make certain our neighborhood had a light shining bright, on the street corner, in our local businesses, and on every porch. Embracing the Leerie role, we’d help point people in the right direction, keep an eye out for danger, and do all of our work without complaint. And like all good Leeries, we’d help one another when our shift was “finished” and make sure all the other Lamplighters made it home safely at night.

I left the movie theater very satisfied with the new version of Mary Poppins, and already thinking about whether or not I living like a Leerie. The Overboard Life demands that each of us be a little Lerrie, lighting lamps for the Gospel in whatever corner of the world God has placed us. What would make you a better Leerie, today?

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

(Below you can enjoy a musical version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem)

Enjoy!

Joseph Castaneda

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Enjoy

It's crazy to me that God has gifted us the ability to work, so that according to Ecclesiastes 3:13, we can enjoy the good things from our labor. Without question, our greatest joy will come when we are living face to face with our Creator God in eternity, but until that day, we are given opportunity and permission to enjoy the good in this life, too!

What would our lives look like if we truly enjoyed the labor of our hands, the grind of the work place, and even the challenges of the daily commute? What if we saw all of these things as gifts from God instead of difficult, miserable, or even unlikable parts of our lives?

Instead, what if our daily work routine was viewed as a hand-selected, prized gift, given to us by God Himself so that we could enjoy the work, enjoy the meals we purchase with the income, and relish the good times with friends and family that the resources given us provide? Imagine how different we’d view each day!

This verse brings to mind Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, given thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Do you find joy in your work? It may not be the job that’s the problem (No, I’m not saying that every job is great. I’m simply reminding each of us that work is a gift from the Lord, and regardless of whether or not we “like” our particular vocation, we can still choose joy!), but your perspective that needs to change.

Today, choose to enjoy the work God has given you.

Lessons From A Traffic Jam

Joseph Castaneda

Last summer I was traveling through the highway and byways of West Virginia after a speaking engagement for IFCA’s national youth conference. I was making the 10-hour trek from the beautiful campus of Appalachian Bible College to my beautiful wife and kids in northern Michigan. As often happens during summer travel on America’s amazing road system, traffic came to screeching halt as we entered a construction zone; a bridge spanning one of West Virginia’s many lazy rivers was under some much needed repairs.

The west-bound traffic was only stopped for a couple of minutes, and as I drove over the bridge that was under repair, I realized that an accident on the east-bound side was a distraction for everyone. A small military convoy was at the front of the mess, where it appeared a smaller sedan had collided with one of the lead desert-colored humvees and ended up creating a significant multi-car collision in the one lane that wasn’t under construction. It looked funny to pass the accident and see dozens of soldiers in military garb standing about, and shuffling around on the freeway.

Thankfully it appeared that no one had been seriously injured, but the debris on the road, combined with the difficulty in accessing the accident due to the lane closures, made this a terrible spot for an incident. Cars were trickling by, very slowly, as they navigated what little shoulder the bridge had to offer, under the guidance of the military personnel. Our lane was moving at a matching speed, simply because everyone likes to look at an accident scene.

As I’ve traveled over the years, and been witness to many backups and slowdowns, I’ve developed this strange habit of checking the mileage (and travel time when it’s in my lane) from the front of the line to back, because I’m always curious what the impact of a collision or slowdown is to the rest of the line of travelers. This particular backup ended up lasting nearly 7 miles. When you’re traveling at 5mph or less…that’s a VERY long backup!

We’ve all been at the back of one of those traffic lines and have experienced the frustration of wondering what in the world is making traffic slow to a crawl on a beautiful Friday evening when it seems like everyone should be moving well.

As I traversed the bridge and dropped back down on the other side of the small river that we were crossing, I could see the backup of cars going on forever, but between the end of the bridge and the first bend in the road, there was an emergency vehicle turnout. The turnout was about half mile from the bridge, roughly six minutes for someone moving at 5mph.

While driving past the turnout, a visibly frustrated driver on the other side of the highway pulled out on to the left shoulder, sped alongside the stopped traffic, then violently turned in to the emergency turnout and jumped in to our flow of traffic. They pulled right behind me and drove the next five miles in my lane before taking the nearest exit. Who knows, maybe they needed fuel badly, or maybe someone in the car needed to pee and another few minutes of stopped traffic would have meant a change of pants at the nearest Walmart.

What struck me was this: if they had stayed in their lane another six minutes, just another half-mile, they would have been through the accident and at an exit on the other side of the bridge. They were so close to breaking free from the traffic congestion, but for whatever reason(s), they gave up their spot, lost ground, and moved back in line. About 30 minutes later I made a stop, and I glanced back at Apple Maps to see where the driver might have been going. Because of the river, there really weren’t many crossing options that would have made sense on some little West Virginia backroad, so my guess is that if they had wanted to continue eastbound, they would have had to renter traffic at the back of the line.

I wonder how many times you and I have been so close to finishing a goal, completing a dream, or pushing through a difficult barrier, only to sabotage our victory by taking the emergency turnoff just moments before we would have broken through, finished, or completed the task? Dreams and goals are hard to achieve but they are even more difficult when we start working against ourselves!

The Apostle Paul was a man with great focus and intensity, and as he neared the end of his life, he could tell is prodigy that he had run the race, he finished well, and he was looking forward to the rewards that awaited him. In other words, he hadn’t taken the emergency exit when his frustration, irritation, or anger had taken over. He didn’t head back the other way because he was so discouraged, and he didn’t miss the finish line by half a mile because he was just so tired of waiting and working. He finished.

As we jump headlong in to 2019, let me encourage you to set your heart and mind to finish the goals God has given you for this year. Start with a finisher’s mentality that says you are going to hold the course and run your race well. You may not run fast or pretty, but you will run hard, and you will run to the finish line no matter how many emergency turnarounds show up along the way.

1 really spiritual way to NOT get rid of guilt

Joseph Castaneda

I was preaching a winter camp a couple weekends ago and preached a message from John 4. I love the Bible and I love when it comes alive in new ways. The story of the Woman at the Well is pretty familiar to many, but I saw a lesson in the text that I had not seen before, a lesson about the problem with guilt and shame.

 

Let me give three quick background points that might help flesh out this story:

 

  1. Jesus and His disciples were traveling thru Samaria when Jesus stopped at a well, while His disciples went into town to get some food.
  2. At the well, Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for water which a social faux pax on two levels: First, Jews didn’t talk to Samaritans, they hate each other. Second, this woman was drawing water in the middle of the day…probably indicating she was a social outcast, so a Jewish Rabbai had to business talking to a woman of this “type.”
  3. As with most encounters in His ministry, Jesus used the natural (in this case, water from a well) to talk about the spiritual (living water from Jesus).

 

So part way thru their conversation, Jesus asks this woman to go home, bring her husband back to the well, so that Jesus could take with both of them. At this request, she replied that she didn’t have a husband and Jesus commends her for her honesty: “You are right when you say you do not have a husband. You have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband…”

 

The woman’s jaw must have bounced off the ground at Jesus’ words. How did He know this about her? Had they met before? He certainly wasn’t from town (remember, He was a Jew), but did the rumors of this woman reach Jerusalem? Whatever thoughts raced around in her mind were immediately displaced by the reality that she was standing in the presence of a man of God: “I can see that you are a prophet…” are the words that escaped her mouth. Then look what happens next.

 

“Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Prior to speaking at this camp, I had never put together the fact that immediately after Jesus points out her sinful lifestyle, she explains her attempts at trying to rid herself of guilt! Notice she didn’t try to excuse her lifestyle, and I don’t think she was merely getting religious because a “pastor” showed up (believe me…that happens more times than I care to recount!), rather, Jesus exposed her sin and she tried to explain how she’s dealing with it, spiritually.

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I wonder how many of us try to deal with guilt in the same way? Maybe you know the familiar cycle: you sin, you acknowledge and confess your sin, then in order to make sure you don’t sin again, or maybe in attempt to hope God doesn’t remember that sin, you try really hard to be more spiritual. You listen to more worship music. You do more service. You engage in more religious conversations. You try…try…try…and yet, like this woman, your guilt remains.

 

Of course, Jesus meets people where they are, right? Physically, He met this woman at the well, and spiritually He meets her at her greatest need. Even in Jesus’ day, worship wasn’t about the location (the temple in Jerusalem), it was about the heart of the worshipper. He teaches this woman that the location of her worship doesn’t matter if the heart is wrong, but when the heart is right, she becomes the type of worshipper the Father is seeking: one who worships in spirit and in truth. Jesus freed her from the prison of having to do enough of the right things in the right place to be absolved from guilt, and helps her understand that through Living Water, freely given to those who put their faith in Christ, she can be cleansed and freed eternally!

 

The story ends in such magnificent fashion as many Samaritans put their faith in Christ because they heard this woman’s story (4:39) and embraced the eternal life offered by the Savior fo the world (4:42).

 

As I think about how this woman was liberated from the guilt of her sin, not because she finally did enough of the right things, but because she finally accepted the payment offered by Christ, I wonder how many of us are dealing with the guilt the way she did before this encounter? How many times have we sinned, then, in an attempt to fill our lives with spiritual activity, try to do enough good to cover the guilt from our spiritual failings?

 

There are not enough minutes in a lifetime, to worship God sufficiently to cover up the guilt for even one of our sins. But one drop of the blood of Jesus, an innocent man who died to pay the price for the sin of the world, can wipe away the guilt of a thousand thousand sins in a single man, woman or child. When we put our faith in Him, when we acknowledge His sacrifice as sufficient for our sin and guilt, we can experience true freedom from the shame of sin. We can find hope, healing, and true spiritual liberty in being a child of God, and not in trying to do what a child of God “should” do.

 

Yes, when we have experienced that freedom we should long to live a life that pleases God, a life that flows from a heart of worship and praise. But we must never convince ourselves that our worship, our good deeds, and our best spiritual efforts can somehow erase the guilt of our sin. Only Jesus can do that, and He works thru the faith of His children.

 

If you’re trying to win God’s forgiveness today, I urge you to find identity with the woman in John 4. You will never be able to do enough to rid yourself of the guilt of your sin, but thankfully you don’t have to: Jesus has already paid the price. Seek God in faith, confess your sin in genuine repentance, and allow Him to set you free as only He can do.

 

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

Failing to win

Joseph Castaneda

I don’t know if you were among the 103.4 million viewers who tuned in for the Super Bowl or not, but this year’s contest was a pretty exciting game. Spoiler alert: The Eagles beat the Patriots in a significant upset, especially when you looked at the two men leading their offenses. The Patriot’s QB has 5 Super Bowl rings to his name, while the Eagles QB didn’t even have a starting job when the 2017/2018 season began. In fact, a freak injury to the starter for the Eagles paved the way for this incredible upset victory.

 

Whether you care about football or not, Nick Foles, the QB for Philadelphia, gave a fantastic answer to how he’s dealt with the struggles of life, the disappointments of seeing opportunities pass you by, and the thrill of watching your dreams become reality. Take a minute to watch this two-minute clip that happened during his post-Super Bowl interview.

 

 

It seems like we live in a culture that really lives in fear of failure; a culture that actually runs from it. For example, I was thinking about how much sports participation has changed since I was a child, and one of the biggest challenges I have faced as a coach and parent is that so many programs are set up to eliminate failure. No, I’m not going to get into the debate about the psychology of winning and losing, I’m just observing that even in competitive sports, we’ve tried to replace the experience of losing with the experience of “winning.”

Don’t be afraid to fail…That’s a part of life, part of building character.
— Nick Foles, Super Bowl winning MVP quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles

So now we have games without scores, everyone on the team gets a trophy (I’m watching this happen even at the high school level!), coaches aren’t allowed to correct improper technique during a game and everyone is required to play the same amount of minutes. In fact, I recently heard about a sports leagues where officials aren’t allowed to indicate which player committed a violation so that no one feels “singled-out” for mistakes.

 

This of course, extends beyond sports. College campuses have created “Safe Zones” where a person can be assured they won’t hear anything that seems offensive to their personal or moral standards. I know college profs who are strongly discouraged from flunking a student, regardless of the quality of work or lack of effort put in by the student. College students around the country (maybe around the world?) are demanding that grades be taken out of the hands of the teacher, and rather, should be assigned based on the self-evaluation of the student.

 

I wish these issues stopped with sports and academia, but they do not. A few years ago, a friend of mine who was in charge of hiring personnel for his business, told me a story about a young man who came in for an interview. This particular line of work required a more formal dress code and during the interview, a fresh-out-of-college candidate came in wearing jeans and a T-shirt. My friend conducted the interview and was frustrated by the candidates inability to answer basic questions (from my friend’s viewpoint based on the applicant’s resume and education), and that he regularly checked his text messages throughout the 20 minute interview.

 

My friend wrapped up the meeting and informed the young man that he would not be hired, and tried to explain a few things that might help develop the recent grad’s interview skills in the future. The young man was angry, and he expressed his disgust with the process and the outcome of the interview. Within a couple of hours, my buddy received a call from the young man’s mother who lambasted him for his incompetence as an interviewee and his total lack of appreciation for her son’s skillset. She threatened to escalate the call to my friend’s boss, the owner of the company, if he didn’t immediately change his hiring decision. My buddy gladly welcomed that phone call, and needless-to-say, the young man was never employed by his company.

 

Maybe you agree with the concept of non-losing sports events or with the mom who called an employer on behalf of her son. Honestly, I’m not debating the merit of either scenario. What I am trying to challenge is the idea that somehow protecting our children or parents or families or churches or schools or teams or communities or leaders or students from failure is productive. In fact, I’d argue that protecting people from failure is vastly counterproductive to creating the character we strongly desire to see them develop. Failure is fundamental to personal growth and development in every area of life. It’s not that we should wish failure upon the people we love, but we shouldn’t be so eager to try and erase it from their lives, either.

 

From businessmen to athletes, from stay-at-home mom bloggers to the high school janitor, ask anyone who has experienced any kind of success in life or vocation or relationship and they will tell you the same story: past failure played a role in their current “win.” A few years ago I read a business article where the author had interviewed multiple self-made millionaires and billionaires, and he was shocked to discover a unifying truth about each of them: they had all made significant business blunders and had experienced monumental business losses on their way to business success. Most of them had filed for bankruptcy, multiple times, before experiencing their big break. Most of them had lost more money than many people will make in their lifetimes. Regardless of the size of loss, however, each one chose to learn from their failures, and the character developed thru the hardship prepared them for future success.

 

I wonder how many of us are shielding our lives, and the lives of those we love, from failure, and ultimately, shielding them from character development they will need for future growth and success? 

 

In Isaiah 48:10 we find that spiritual success runs a similar course: “See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction…” Spiritual growth comes, not on the mountaintop experiences, but through the suffering and affliction that God allows into our lives. It is in the shadows of catastrophic loss, the wake of spiritual confession, or through the humility of a broken spirit that God does His refining work in our lives so that we can be made ready for the work He has set apart for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Shielding ourselves form loss or failure or consequences is ultimately shielding ourselves from the opportunity to grow.

 

James echoes this truth when he states, that we experience suffering and trials so that “…you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4). Almost all of us desire maturity and completeness as individuals, but few us desire the path we must take in order to experience life-changing growth. Clearly we must learn, as Nick Foles has learned, that failing is the pathway to victory; suffering is the route that leads to growth. God refines us in our brokenness, then gives us the healing to be who He wants us to be so that we can do, what He wants us to do.

 

Go ahead and take the plunge, life–even failure in life–is always better on the water!

Thoughts about cussing

Joseph Castaneda

I remember being a young teenager trying to come to grips with whether or not it was really wrong to drop the occasional curse word. Or, as was the case in my 7th grade year, to string together profanities in a fashion that showed a keen mind for the creative process. Granted, I only swore in front of my Christian friends because I didn’t want to have a bad testimony in front of my non-believing friends (that is so messed up!), and I reasoned: it’s only a word, what’s the difference between saying “Dang” or…

 

Of course that line of reasoning is a tad on the ridiculous side. Words have meaning, some of them are stronger or more direct than others, and some carry a special weight because of how the listener receives them. Whether or not society deems a word as “profane” or not is another interesting topic, but regardless: words have meaning. The good ones, and the bad ones, mean something and more importantly, they say something about the user.

 

(Incidentally, my cursing problem was almost instantly cured the day I dropped a special bomb while watching a football game one Sunday after church. My mother heard it, and asked, “What did you say??!” I tried to assure her I said a good Christian equivalent like, “Shoot, those raiders really Fricked up that play!” When my father came home his belt smacked me so soundly that every profanity I ever wanted to utter (past, present or future!) flew out of my consciousness for good. Haven’t had much of a profanity problem since then!)

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My wife and I were talking about profanity and speech recently and how it seems like it cursing has become more common among believers today. It’s almost like “Hey, I’m not one of those fake Christians, I’m the real deal, and I use profanity to show how authentic I am.” I’m all for authenticity. If the church had failed the world in the decades leading up to the turn of last century, it might have been seen most glaringly in the area of living a true, authentic faith. We sometimes painted a picture of faith that made everything better and made all of our problems go away. Even Jesus indicated that in faith, your problems were just beginning! Faith gives us hope for those problems, but Christ didn’t promise any of us any easy life.

 

While we were talking about this topic, Traci made this comment: “Isn’t it interesting that Peter, when he denied Jesus, cursed in order to show that he didn’t belong to Jesus?”

 

I have never thought about Peter’s action at Jesus’ crucifixion as a defense of the idea that believers shouldn’t swear, so I spent some time looking up those passages and studying them out. One of the ones I focused on most was Mark 14:66-72, especially on verse 71: “He [Peter] began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘”I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’”

 

At first I thought maybe the passage would lead me a different way, but as I began to understand the greek words used in this story, and the way they were understood in Peter’s day, there is no doubt that Peter’s words were an ancient form of profanity. He profaned his own name and through profanity emphasized his own lack of relationship with Christ. And my wife’s thought hits me even harder: Peter spoke this way in order to distance himself from Christ.

 

Words have meaning and power, and the power and meaning of the words we use make it possible for us to communicate effectively and with emphasis when needed. Our words align us with causes (“#MeToo”), reveal our character (“I have a dream…”) and reflect something of our inner being (“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”).

 

What do your words reveal about you? With what causes do they align you? What do they reveal about your character? Most importantly, what do your words reveal about the contents of your heart?

 

Let’s all work to use words that “build others up according to their needs” (Ephesians 4:29) and that reflect the heart of Paul for young Timothy: “…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

 

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

The 38th Anniversary of Al Michaels and The Miracle on Ice

Joseph Castaneda

I was only 6 when it happened, on this date, February 22nd, 38 years ago, but I still remember watching part of the game in our house (tape delayed!). I still remember loving what happened. I vividly remember the silky blue “USA Olympics” coat I wore everywhere after the games were over. It was one of those coats I wore long after I outgrew it and for months after it developed tears and holes and my mother wished I would wear something else…anything else.

 

For sports fans alive in 1980, the USA hockey team defeat of team USSR in the semi-finals of the Olympic Games is unforgettable. David defeating Goliath may be the only underdog to overcome greater odds than that team, since the Soviets had won the gold medal in hockey every Olympics since 1964. In fact, a week prior to their showdown in Lake Placid, NY, the Soviets had demolished the U.S. team in an exhibition game. Few people thought the Red, White and Blue had any chance against the seasoned veterans of the mighty U.S.S.R.

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Despite facing an early deficit, the Americans did the unthinkable and rode the incredible goal-tending glove of Jimmy Craig, combined with timely goals from key players to knock the Soviets out of gold medal contention. A few days later the U.S. squad knocked off Finland to secure Olympic gold and sports immortality with, “The Miracle on Ice!”

 

The game was given that nick name because of the famous call, by a young broadcaster name Al Michaels. Yes, that Al Michaels that just called Super Bowl Lii along with five or six other Super Bowls and just about every major sporting event since 1980. But in 1980, he was just Al Michaels, not the legend, not the familiar voice of a World Series baseball game or a Monday night football game. He was Al Michaels, the youngster who had to cover the hockey game.

 

I recently heard Al interviewed on the radio about that moment in Lake Placid and he joked about how he ended up with the call. You see, to most people, it was a foregone conclusion that the Russians would clean up in the hockey finals, and few of the broadcasters wanted to cover an event that would have so little drama. While assignments were being handed out during the week, it was revealed that Al had called a hockey game in his young career, so, he was given the tournament.

 

As the Americans started playing with some surprising results in the 12 team tournament, the remote possibility of an unprecedented upset began to stir among fans and sports writers. Despite the lopsided loss America had sustained against Russia in the exhibition game just days before the Olympics, the arena was packed beyond capacity and chants of “U.S.A.” rattled the foundation and rafters of the arena hours before the puck dropped.

 

Politically, in 1980, president Carter was gearing up to fight for re-election against an actor-turned-politician out of California, and oil prices were thru the roof. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States made the rivalry between these two teams even more intense. It was as if two ideologies were competing on the ice, more than just two groups of men who play a game on a frozen pond.

 

The Soviets took the early 2-1 lead, but with less than 10 minutes remaining in the 3rd period, captain Mike Eruzione hit the go ahead goal that gave the Americans a 4-3 lead. Jimmy Craig deflected multiple shot attempts in the final 10 minutes and, famously, after a deflection was sent to the other end of the ice rink, the clock began ticking down and Al Michaels spoke the unforgettable words, “5 seconds left in the game…do you believe in miracles? Yes!”

 

The Soviets had been defeated. The Americans had won. Al Michaels was a legend.

 

One of the things that strikes me about this incredible piece of history, is the place in history that Al Michael’s shares because of his part in the game. He gets invited to reunions that are open ONLY to players/families of that team, and when a movie was made capturing the magic of that day, Al was included and the actual call for the game was incorporated to the film’s finale. In fact the film’s director said, “Al, without you and your call, this movie can’t be made.”

 

And he was there, in that place on that day, because he had called one other hockey game in his yet, not-so-illustrious career.

 

I marvel at how God does this with us all the time, and how often we miss His working because we don’t want to be backstage, off-camera or picking up trash after the big event. Al probably wasn’t the best announcer of that Olympic Games, and he might not have even been the most qualified announcer for hockey. Yet there he was, prepared, ready to go, and eager to take the task handed to him without knowing the outcome would change his trajectory and career.

 

Has God placed you in a minor league hockey game today? Are you serving Him backstage while the “show” goes on without you? Are you in a place where no one knows your name or your part, and you wonder if you will get the chance for something else?

 

As I’ve studied the Scriptures over the past 21 years of pastoral ministry, one of the patterns that has emerged through the lives of God’s chosen people, is how often He takes the people who are faithful to serve Him, quietly, almost passively, but whose hearts are for Him, and uses them for exceptional work! In fact, the people who long for the spotlight, the people who crave the affections of the crowd, are rarely the ones God assigns for His greatest tasks. Just look at this (very incomplete!) list of people that God used for great tasks; people whose lives were relatively unknown prior to God’s working through them:

 

Moses was an 80-year-old, stuttering shepherd living in the desert when God called him.

Jael was a stay-at-home mom before God used her to defeat an army.

David was the youngest of 8 brothers, a lowly shepherd who liked rocks and harps.

Esther was an orphaned, very beautiful, teenage girl living with her uncle.

John lived in the desert and wore a shirt made of camel hair, and apparently had an appetite for locust.

Ruth was a widower and foreigner in a land that wasn’t fond of her particular type.

Abraham was a son and uncle, a nomad and wanderer, and was older than your great grandfather when he had his first child.

Mary was a sweet young Jewish girl who grew up on the other side of the tracks.

Gideon was a man hiding in a winepress when God came to him.

The “other” Mary was a demon-possessed prostitute before she met Jesus.

 

Yet each of them was extraordinary in what they did for the Lord. Moses led Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land, taking them on a 40 year route thru the wilderness. Jael drove a tent peg into the temple of the leader of the enemy of Israel, affectively ending a war. David became Israel’s king, serving for 40 years and prepared for the temple to be built by his son Solomon. Esher saved her people from extinction during the Assyrian captivity of the Jews. John proclaimed the coming of The Lamb of God and pointed the people to Jesus. Ruth became a great grandmother of King David. Abraham became the father of the entire Jewish nation. Mary gave birth to God’s Son and was among the first disciples in the church. Gideon led Israel’s armies against an army 500 times larger than his. The “other” Mary poured perfume on Jesus and wiped his feet with her tears and hair, and Jesus forever proclaimed her connection to the Gospel.

 

None of these people sought the position they were given, but all of them were ready when the opportunity arose. Because they were more talented, gifted or intellectual? No. They were ready because they gave their talents and gifts and intellects and hearts to God in the little things of life. When God called them they were obedient to Him. No matter how unqualified they may have felt, no matter how much they may have tried to convince God they weren’t ready, they obeyed God’s voice and thru them, He accomplished great work.

 

Embrace your calling in life and take on those minor league hockey games with all your might. Clean up after the event as if you were cleaning up the Lord’s table. Serve your family with all your heart. Take out the garbage and empty the dishwasher with joy and diligence. Give that report as if God Himself were sitting in the room listening. As you make it all about Him, you will begin to care less and less about platform you have and will begin to care more and more about bringing Him the glory. Then, you might not even notice, that one day He gives you an opportunity to do something that reaches more people than you ever imagined. And you will be ready.

 

The Miracle on Ice story is unforgettable. But it pales in comparison to the story of God’s meekest child who lives in reverent obedience to Him, even in the greatest obscurity. Live a remarkable life by following and serving Him where ever you are, and you will marvel at what He can accomplish thru you.

 

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

Want to thrive? Serve!

Joseph Castaneda

Sometimes when you blog, you sit down and think you have a brilliant piece that will change the landscape of human history. Other times you are just hoping you don’t sound like a total dolt! Most of the time you are trying to express some profound idea you had in the flicker of a moment between prepping for work and figuring out what you’re going to do for lunch. And still other times, your 16-year-old son gives you all the material you need.

 

AJ and I are reading through the Bible in a year. We are using the YouVersion Bible app to track our progress and record our comments. A few weeks ago we were reading Mark 10 and we came across these words of Jesus: “Not so with you, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

 

I love my son’s comments about servanthood:

 

“The concept for humans to become servants is such a hard thing to grasp. Servitude has never been seen as a good thing, but Jesus said that in order to be first we must be last. We have to become servants to thrive.”

 

What a great statement: if we want to thrive we must learn to serve!

 

On the night He was betrayed, Jesus set the bar high by setting an example that we might follow. After dinner, He took off his coat and wrapped a towel around His waist while He washed the feet of His disciples. Why? Because they had nasty dirty feet? For sure! But even more, listen to what He says: “‘Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done…now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’” (John 13:12-17).

 

“The concept for humans to become servants is such a hard thing to grasp...[but] we have to become servants to thrive.”
— AJ Castaneda

I think my son summed up the words of Jesus, well. If you want to thrive in this life, learn to serve others first. This life isn’t about you, and it’s certainly not about me. This life is about our Savior, and the greatest thing you can do with your life is to use it to serve Him by serving others. If you want to experience the greatest blessing of knowing God, then spend your life in service!

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Serve God today, by serving the people He has placed in your path. Make a plan to serve that overbearing boss or annoying co-worker. Be intentional about serving your husband or wife or those very ungrateful children that can’t seem to find the dishwasher with their dirty dishes. Serve your pastor or the difficult sheep in your congregation. Serve your mail carrier or garbage collector with a gift of appreciation. Serve your employees with joy or serve that snobbish customer with grace and a smile despite their unreasonable demands. Serve the homeless man holding a sign on the corner or serve the gazillionaire who seems above it all. Whatever you do today, serve.

 

And as you make service your mantra, your way of life, you will begin to experience the blessing that Jesus spoke about in Mark 10, and you will thrive!

 

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

3 thoughts about giving thanks

Joseph Castaneda

Now that we’ve come through the Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to share some thoughts about how to create a habit of thankfulness that will last beyond the turkey and gravy we enjoy with our friends and family on the 4th Thursday of November. Since 1 Thessalonians 5:18 informs us that thankfulness is part of God’s will for our lives, we would all be wise to invest time in expressing our thanks for more often. Here are three thoughts about how to make that happen:

We had much to be thankful for around the Castañeda Thanksgiving table this year!

We had much to be thankful for around the Castañeda Thanksgiving table this year!

 

  1. Thankfulness is bigger than the circumstances you face. In the verse mentioned above, Paul writes, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for your life.” (It should be noted that prayer, v. 17, and joy, v. 16, are also included as part of God’s will.) You don’t have to do too much study to understand that God expects His children to be thankful, regardless of the circumstances that confront us. In other words, thankfulness isn’t simply a feeling we express, or an emotion we experience, but rather an attitude and habit we develop. You don’t have to feel thankful, in order to be thankful.
  2. Thankfulness flows easiest, when our God is worshipped. Hebrews 12:28 reminds us of the eternal nature of our future home with God, and out of that reminder comes two commands: be thankful and worship God. There is an unmistakable connection between worship (putting God in his rightful place in our lives) and thankfulness, and when God is elevated properly, thankfulness flows easily. After all, when we recognize the greatness of God, our circumstances don’t seem so daunting, and our capacity to utter thanksgiving is expanded. If you are in a personal relationship with God, you already have so much for which to be grateful!
  3. Prayer and thankfulness are closely related. I think it was Spurgeon who once said, “If prayer and joy were wed, their first child would be thankfulness.” When we read about thankfulness in the Bible, we can’t help but see the intimate connection it has to prayer. In 7 of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, he begins by expressing thankfulness through prayer for the people to whom he is writing. Philippians 4:6 may be the clearest on this concept: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Where there is much prayer, there is much thanksgiving!

 

How are you doing in developing a habit of thankfulness? If you’re struggling, if you’re circumstances have become bigger than your God, you might consider evaluating who or what it is you worship, or maybe you need to get on your knees and spend more time in prayer. You see, in worship, we elevate God by ascribing to Him what is already His; we remind ourselves that He is God over everything! In Prayer, we commit ourselves to trusting Him, and to believing that His plan is best and right, and that our desire is to follow Him, not change Him. In either case, both worship and prayer give us perspective, and when we have the right perspective, we will find countless reasons to give thanks.

 

Yes, it’s easy to be thankful when things are going well and life is “easy.” But God’s children are called to be thankful “in all circumstances” and that requires more than just will power; it requires a perspective that comes from being intimately connected to God. Deepen your worship and prayer, and I’m confident you will increase your ability to give thanks.

 

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is better on the water (and there is much for which we can be thankful!)

Be like this rose bush

Joseph Castaneda

Last month I did some speaking and support raising out in Oregon, and had the opportunity to see my family for a week while doing so. For a few nights, I stayed with my parents and on one beautiful afternoon, my mom and I explored her green thumb handiwork around the yard. My special gardening skill is that the moment I plant something, it begins to die. My mom’s special gardening skill is that she could plant a rock and boulder would grow up through the yard. And it would be pretty, too. It’s quite impressive.

 

As we walked around the outside of the house, she showed me her impressive creeping gourds that were climbing all over the front fence. We found a few strawberries, too, (which in October in the Oregon is quite impressive by itself!) and handful of other blooming flowers. We walked around back and saw something else (pumpkins?) growing out of the earth, but then we made a little stop by the front fence at a plant that really caught my attention.

This rose bush is a California transplant, that made it's way to Oregon back in 2001

This rose bush is a California transplant, that made it's way to Oregon back in 2001

 

Ok, truth-be-told, it didn’t catch my attention, it’s what my mom said about this plant that caught my attention. After all, the plant was beautiful but it was just a rose bush. You’ve seen them before, or maybe you’ve received the product of a rose bush as a gift from your spouse or boyfriend, or maybe you’ve smelled them walking through the park. Regardless, if you had seen this bush on that day, you might have admired it’s beauty but then moved on to other plants growing throughout my mom’s yard.

 

What stopped me was the story behind this bush: It’s a transplant from a rose bush that used to live in Oakland California. When my grandfather passed away in 2001, he had a number of plants and trees growing on his little parcel of inner city concrete. One of them was this rosebush, and one of my uncles carefully dug up the plant, cut off shoots for each of the siblings, and that’s how my mom and dad (it was my dad’s father that had passed) ended up with this particular plant.

 

I don’t know how long that plant had grown in Oakland, but it’s been living the last 16 years in a little side yard in Oregon, continuing it’s tradition of producing beautiful flowers each and every year. To my knowledge, none of the other siblings had much success with their shoots, but to their credit, they didn’t have my mom’s green thumb super power, either.

 

My mom and I talked a bit about the plant, and later I actually wrote a few things down and started thinking about this blog post. I now realize that one of my life goals is to be like this plant. That’s right, I’m trying to live like a transplanted flower. Here are three lessons I’m taking away from this bush’s story:

 

Be tough. This bush didn’t get to pick whether or not it got to stay in my grandpa’s yard. It didn’t get any input into whether or not it would get chopped up into five different plants and then sent nearly 700 miles away to be replanted. To my knowledge, my uncle didn’t consult with the plant about what was best for it, instead, he gently hacked it and gave my aunt’s and uncles and parents a chance to keep a part of my grandpa’s home with them.

 

In the same way, each of us experiences hardships in life of which we have so little control. (Don’t get me wrong, all of us cause plenty of grief in our own lives, but legitimately, things happen that lie far outside our control!) Maybe you were driving home, obeying the laws, even keeping space between you and vehicle in front of you when an out-of-control driver coming the other direction caused a serious accident. You didn’t deserve that. You didn’t cause it. And yet you have to live with the consequences of someone else’s actions. Have you contracted someone else’s cold because they showed up to work when they should have called in sick? You ever been cheated by an employee? You ever have something stolen out of your car or back pocket? You ever falsely accused of something?

 

We all face difficult circumstances in life, and often things that are outside of our desire or control, but each of those experiences gives us the opportunity to learn to develop toughness. You cannot control everything that happens to you in a day, but you can control how you respond. My friend Doug calls it grit: that ability to respond right even when it feels like everything/everyone is against you.

 

I believe toughness comes from the belief that this life isn’t all that we have, and that through Jesus we have hope that gets us through today and prepares us for tomorrow. The writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). This hope gives us toughness to endure today’s storms while waiting for tomorrow’s sunshine.

 

Be fruitful. I love that my mom’s plant continues to produce flowers, season after season, year after year. In the same way, God wants you and I to be fruitful in every aspect of our lives. In fact, in John 15 when Jesus talks about this very issue of fruitfulness, He says the Father cuts and prunes us for one reason: to make us more fruitful! The difficult seasons of life, the good seasons of life, the painful seasons of life, the joyful seasons of life all have one ultimate goal: to make our lives more fruitful for God’s glory!

 

And how do we maintain our fruitfulness? According to verses 5, 9 and 10, we are fruitful when we remain in God’s love and we remain in God’s love when we live in obedience to God. So our obedience is at the heart of our love and fruitfulness. In other words, no matter what you’re going through, no matter how difficult the circumstances, keep true to God and you will continue to be fruitful.

 

Be beautiful. Not only is this plant fruitful, but it is beautiful. Obviously, I’m not much of a plant guy (understatement!) but I did a double take at this rose bush’s beautiful flowers and admired them enough to snap a pic. Despite that massive life-altering experience this perennial Rosaceae endured, it continues to be a bright spot for people who pass by, for the gardener who grooms it and for the God who created it!

 

Be beautiful to the world around you, and show them the love of Christ from the way you live. In Matthew 5 Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father in Heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Whether that “other” is a godly spouse or a distant stepchild, an unbearable boss or a pleasant co-worker, a lousy neighbor or an elderly shut-in, be beautiful to the people around you so that they see your Jesus.

 

What do you need to work on this week? Does your toughness need to grow? Do you need to renew your commitment to fruitful obedience? Has your beauty been tainted by your difficult circumstances?

 

Go ahead and take the plunge, life— and your toughness, fruit and beauty—is better on the water!

Stay humble

Joseph Castaneda

Humility seems to come more “naturally” to some than to others, but the hard reality of life is that we have all been humbled. And, when our pride does get out of hand, God has a way of helping us realign our perspective, usually in a way that involves significant humility.

 

In 1885, the St. Louis Browns (you know them today as the St. Louis Cardinals) won the American Association championship (this was before baseball merged the two leagues and formed what we now know as Major League Baseball) and decided to celebrate on October 7th of that year. To make this party as epic as possible, they city chose to celebrate it at night, and to complete the grandiose festivities, a significant firework show was planned for the conclusion of the champion’s parade.

The 1885 champions of Baseball, St. Louis Browns.

The 1885 champions of Baseball, St. Louis Browns.

 

It is estimated that over 250,000 people lined the streets to celebrate the Browns, and overzealous fans brought their own assortment of fireworks, guns, bombs, Roman candles and torches. It probably won’t surprise many of my readers to know that a number of serious injuries marred the baseball celebration in St. Louis that night. Who knew that the combination of alcohol, fireworks, gunshots, revelry and mass crowds could result in dangerous circumstances?

 

During the night of celebration, a visitor to the city was sitting in his hotel room located in the middle of the parade route. He looked out his window, saw the firework display and noticed that thousands of people were lining the street on which his hotel was located. Surprised by this unsolicited outpouring of supporters, this man opened the door that led to his 4th floor balcony and proceeded to give an impromptu speech to those who had clearly come to honor him.

 

The man was Thomas Hendricks, the 21st Vice President of the United States of America (serving under Grover Cleveland).

Thomas Hendricks, the 21st Vice President of the United States (Photo from www.lookandlearn.com)

Thomas Hendricks, the 21st Vice President of the United States (Photo from www.lookandlearn.com)

 

You can guess there might have been significant embarrassment, when he was told that the gathering was not in his honor. Can you imagine what would happen in today’s culture? Every late night TV host would have a heyday with this debacle and social media memes would mercilessly shame his presumption. Just ask Steve Harvey what happens when you make a mistake in a public forum!

 

Hopefully Vice President Hendricks enjoyed a good laugh after that night, and relatively speaking, a wrongfully given speech is pretty low in the spectrum of ways we can be humbled. This story does however, bring to mind the teachings of Christ about what it means to humbly follow Him. In fact, it is absolutely impossible to follow in the footsteps of Jesus without humility.

 

Ultimately, humility is the perspective that keeps God is in rightful place, and me in mine. In other words, I’m not God and when I live in humility I’m recognizing that He knows all, sees all, and through His own accord is accomplishing everything according to His will. My role isn’t to be commander of my ship, but rather, to follow the Commander’s orders so that my life aligns with His work. I fly His banner and I serve Him, He doesn’t serve me.

 

When I lose that perspective, when pride drives my life, I’m living for me (no matter how much I candy coat it or try to make it sound spiritual!) and for my pleasure. When pride takes over, Joe is my number one priority and at the end of each day my primary goal is to make sure I’ve served me, well.

 

So when Jesus was facing the final hours of his life on earth, what did He do? He had a very symbolic dinner with his disciples followed by a powerful lesson I’m certain they never forgot. Taking off his coat, he got down on his hands and knees, and He did the work of a servant, washing the feet of His disciples. The message was so simple: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:14-16).

 

If you want to live the Overboard Life, you have to recognize that you are a servant and messenger of Jesus, and if He made His life about humble service, so should you! You cannot follow in obedience to the Master and make your life about you. In fact, in Philippians 2 we read that the mindset of Jesus was ultimately about obeying the Father by serving the needs of others and humbly giving up His life for our salvation. His entire 33 year human existence was about humble service, and those living the Overboard Life must follow His lead.

 

Are there any areas of pride creeping up in your life? Are you trying to take control of your ship? Let today be a good day to regain perspective, and daily may we strive to live as humble servants of our great King.

 

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

Mirages, Ghost Cities and your Bible

Joseph Castaneda

The year was 1906, and explorers were rapidly “discovering” Alaska and other Arctic regions as some of the last unexplored places on earth. Robert Peary was one such explorer, and as he traveled, he observed a massive landform northwest’s of Ellesmere Island. He named it, “Crocker Land” after his patron, George Crocker.

 

The only problem with Peary’s new land discovery? The “massive landform” didn’t exist.

 

A few years after Peary’s discovery, fellow American explorer, Donal MacMillan took his crew and they traveled laboriously over the frozen ocean toward what appeared to be the snow-capped peaks of Crocker Land. Strangely, as they “got closer” the land seemed to change its form, and after a few more days of exploration, MacMillan and his men realized they were seeing what is called, “A Superior Mirage.” The same mirage Peary didn’t realize he was seeing many years before.

 

Ever heard of the phrase, “That’s a bunch of crock!”? Well it comes from Peary’s false discovery! (Ok, totally joking about that, but it seems like a better story if that were true!)

 

Mirages and other optical illusions are communion in the Arctic because of unique atmospheric conditions that alter what a person sees. It’s super cool science, where a temperature inversion keeps cold air closer to the ground with warm air above it. The colder air literally “bends light” towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground so that distant objects are viewed differently. For example, distant objects can appear to float high above their actual position (like a boat that suddenly appears to be flying), or objects below the horizon can become visible.

 

Peary most likely experienced what is called a “Fata Morgana.” This is a complex mirage in which distant objects are distorted and elongated vertically. For example, a relatively flat shoreline may appear to have tall cliffs. A famous “Fata Morgana” mirage occurred in Muskegon, Michigan in May of 2011. People on the shores of the Lake Michigan town thought they could see the lights of Milwaukee Wisconsin as though they were just looking 8-10 miles across the lake. The problem? Milwaukee, Wisconsin is over 80 miles away from Muskegon! The vision of the lights was caused by the cold air inversion, the same conditions that produced Peary’s mountains.

A floating city? Nope! Just your every day Fata Morgana.

A floating city? Nope! Just your every day Fata Morgana.

 

Mirages generally don’t have a significant impact on a person’s life. A few explorers spent years looking for something that didn’t really exist, but by nature of the job, isn’t that something explorers can experience? A few people in Muskegon thought they saw the lights of Milwaukee, or maybe some “ghost city” on Lake Michigan, but after a small lesson in sight and science, an explanation debunks the mystery and for the most part, the aftermath is pretty minor.

 

Unfortunately, there are other kinds of myths and mirages that have significant, far-reaching implications.

 

I was speaking at a church recently, talking about the challenges of generous living. While speaking on 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, I referenced a group of TV preachers whose teachings on these matters is completely out of sorts with clear biblical instruction. One man in particular used the platform to say, “Do you need a new car? Then give! Does your house need an upgrade? Then give!” He went on and on and the implication was, if you needed financial blessing and earthly reward, give to God and He will “hook you up” (especially if you give to God by giving to his/her particular ministry)!

 

Don’t we all wish the answer to poverty was as simple as putting money in the offering plate on Sunday? Don’t get me wrong, if you read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 you will find out that God loves to bless generosity and He does so in extraordinary ways. But what you won’t find in that passage is that the primary purpose of the blessing is for the giver. In other words, God doesn’t say, “Give away your money and I’ll reward you with more stuff for you,” but rather, “Give away your money and I will bless you with more opportunities to be generous.” Because the ultimately goal of generosity is stated so plainly in the passage: that others will give thanks, praise and glory to God!

 

My TV preaching pals frequently seem to omit that aspect of their plea for generous sponsorships, making the giving about the giver, not about the one from whom all resources flow. That theological mirage has hurt a lot of people.

 

A few months back I was doing some research about an African country that boasts many of the richest preachers in the world. It’s a country where the average wage is $.70/hour and these preachers offer health, wealth and financial freedom, proclaiming this hope from mansions, gaudy cathedrals and even the cabin of their private jets. I recently heard one of these men speak live and I noted two things about his message: First, he never once mentioned Jesus Christ or the Gospel. It wasn’t that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection changed peoples’ lives, it was that a person’s generosity could. According to his message, the life change you and I need to experience is discovered when we trust God with our money.

 

Without a doubt, a great deal of personal growth can be experienced through acts of generosity. Again, look back at 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 and count all of the blessings of being generous. I counted at least 12! But eternal life change cannot be experienced through generosity, it can only be experienced through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on my behalf. Early in 2 Corinthians Paul reminds me that I was made a “new creation” in Jesus (not in giving), and Romans tells me that I was spiritually dead without Jesus, and new life is found when I put my faith in His death, burial and resurrection as payment for my sins. Generosity is good, but it reveals my heart of obedience, not a pathway to salvation.

 

The second thing I noticed was how frequently he referred to the “fact” that God doesn’t want people to suffer, and that suffering is always the result of not having enough faith in God’s provision. I think of God’s words to Paul, a few chapters later in 2 Corinthians, when Paul was experiencing such great suffering and he begged God to take away the pain: “My grace is sufficient for you!” Notice that God didn’t tell Paul to have more faith, or to give more in the next offering. God told Paul that grace was going to be given to him to help him endure the trial he was experiencing, because apparently, God did want Paul to walk thru this painful trial. Isaiah the prophet tells us that God often does His work in our lives by taking us through “the furnace of affliction.”

 

As I watched this man speak, I was amazed at how easily he preached these errors and how subtle the message was. I watched many people in the room (some Christ followers and some not) nodding their heads in agreement and taking down notes, and I realized that he was proclaiming a mirage as truth, an optical illusion as reality. I wonder how many times I’ve followed a theological mirage?

 

The good news is that we have a serious myth-debunking resource at our disposal: the precious truths found in God’s Word. So often these mirages and half-truths preached from the pulpit can be busted by a simple review of what the Bible actually teaches. We’ve become such a soundbite culture (and I know how tempting it is to try and be a soundbite preacher!) that we take catchy little statements and clever social media memes as solid teaching, whereas a few minutes of reading can reveal what is actually true.

 

If you want to live the Overboard Life, you have to fill yourself with the truths of God’s Word. You can’t be content to have a passive connection with God and His Word, rather, you have to be a student, eager to learn and apply what His Word teaches. Knowing the truth is our greatest tool in debunking spiritual myths and cleverly disguised mirages that will put you back in the boat.  Are you filling up today?

 

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

There are plenty of windows!

Joseph Castaneda

My daughter was in the beautiful wedding of our old neighbors this past weekend, and during the reception, I sat a table with some good friends. One of them, Jennifer, owns a window washing business that her late husband had started years ago. She told me this great story.

 

He began his business in the Detroit area, back when the economy was strong and the business community was thriving. There were lots of businesses that had lots of windows and from time to time, all those windows needed cleaning; it was a pretty competitive market.

 

Instead of fearing the competition, however, Jennifer’s husband embraced them, and would regularly invite many of the other window washers to breakfast where they could get to know each other, talk about the business and even encourage each other. When asked by outsiders why he would do such a thing, his response was simple: “There are plenty of windows in Detroit.”

 

Not only is that a great approach to washing windows, that’s a great approach to living life!

There are plenty of windows that need washing...do you have an abundance or scarcity mentality when it comes to the needs in your life?

There are plenty of windows that need washing...do you have an abundance or scarcity mentality when it comes to the needs in your life?

This last Sunday at New Hope, Petoskey, I had the privilege of preaching through 2 Corinthians 8 (click the link to hear that sermon). There is an interesting story in this chapter that lays the foundation for chapter 9. You see, chapter 8 is about a group of Christians who were incredibly generous. They heard about some Christians in Jerusalem who were experiencing horrible persecution for their faith, AND, they were enduring a devastating famine. These believers in chapter 8, from Macedonia, wanted to do something about it and so they gave generously.

 

What makes their generosity so amazing, is that this group of people were experiencing “severe trials” and extreme poverty themselves! This wasn’t a group of well-to-do people of faith who reached into their deep pockets to throw some coins at the hardship of others, this was a group of poverty stricken followers of Jesus who gave everything they had (which probably wasn’t much, collectively!) to help offset the suffering of others. In fact, Paul says, “They pleaded with me” to give even more. Why did they plead? Probably because Paul couldn’t fathom taking money from the poorest of people in order to help others. But the Macedonian believers wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

How can a group of people, steeped in trial and poverty, develop a mentality of giving that exceeds their means? Why would people give beyond what’s reasonable when their own needs were so high? I think the answer is found in verse one: “An now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches.” These believers in Macedonia trusted in the all-sufficient capacity of God’s grace.

 

Between verse 1 and verse 9, the word “grace” appears 4 times, because grace is central to having an abundant mentality when it comes to our giving. If you continue reading 2 Corinthians, chapter 9 begins a fairly comprehensive teaching on what it means to give generously, along with the attitudes and mindset God expects from His children in regards to their earthly possessions. The teachings on generosity in chapter 9, rest firmly on the teaching of abundance here in chapter 8.

 

Why could the Macedonian believers give so freely out of their poverty? Because they had developed an abundance mentality about God’s grace, being fully convinced that the grace of God would be overly sufficient to meet all of their current and future needs. In other words, “There are plenty of windows!”

 

Do you find it easy to live with an abundance mindset? Most of us know that God’s grace can truly meet our needs, but do we believe it enough to make life decisions based on it? These Christians from Macedonia believed God’s grace was enough to meet their needs, and so they made some decisions, decisions that many of us would call unwise, to give generously to help meet the needs of others. They rejected scarcity (the belief that there just isn’t enough to go around!) and instead embrace abundance and trusted God to work out the details of their own needs.

 

The Overboard Life demands an abundance mentality. It requires us to so fully trust the Lord and His ability to meet our needs with His grace, that we will obey Him in anything He asks, going where ever He asks us to go. A few chapters later in this same book, the Apostle Paul would talk about experiencing a terrible “thorn in the flesh” that he would plead with God to remove. God’s answer? Spoiler alert: He didn’t remove the pain. Instead, God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, what Paul needed was a deeper experience with God’s grace, not the removal of whatever it was that was causing so much suffering.

 

Will you choose today to live in the abundance of God’s grace? Will you adjust your mindset to trust Him no matter what path He has you on, believing that whatever comes your way, whatever chances you have to give and serve, whatever trials you may face, God’s grace will be sufficient to meet your every need? These Macedonian believers trusted God and they leave us a great example to follow!

 

Go ahead and take the plunge, God’s grace is even better out on the water!

Are you good builder?

Joseph Castaneda

I’m not much of a builder.

 

You can ask Paul. Or Scott. Or Marlin. Or my wife. In fact they might even chuckle when you ask, “Is Joe much of a builder?” I worked summers doing construction with Scott, Paul and Marlin at different times during my college years. They built houses, and for reasons beyond my understanding, hired me to help. I loved working with those guys, and it was during those hot summer day son the construction site that I learned that I didn’t have that “it” when it comes to building. My poor wife has lived with me for over 20 years, watching me perform basic home improvement tasks that rarely turn out how they should, and often left me questioning my manhood and general capacity to read and follow instructions.

 

I have friends who are builders, guys (and gals!) who see a dilapidated old barn and can picture (and build!) a $1,000/night get-a-way for couples. My friend Tom turns barn wood into beautiful bedroom furniture. My friend Bruce takes fallen trees and carves them into grizzly bears and eagles with a chain saw. My friend Chris builds stunning custom homes. My friend Nancy builds super cool fire rings. My brother-in-law Ramiro builds 30-story apartment complexes in dense downtown business districts. My friend Dave builds cars. My friend Tim builds computers. My friend Gina builds amazing rustic furniture. My friend Dan built a Ninja course. My friend Steve built a camp. My friend Frank can build…well…anything! The list goes on.

 

When I watch these people ply their skills to their work, I’m blown away. Yes, some of it is learned skill, but much of it also flows out of their raw natural talent and an affinity for building. I don’t have that natural talent, and honestly, I don’t have an affinity for the work. I was never one of those home owners who thought, “I can’t wait to work on home improvement projects!” Truthfully, I’m envious of the talent of these builders, but I’m equally thankful they love to help me with projects so that I reap the benefit of their skill.

 

This might be my greatest building claim to fame: a hope chest I made for my wife as an engagement gift (bribe?) 21 years ago and it still holds together!

This might be my greatest building claim to fame: a hope chest I made for my wife as an engagement gift (bribe?) 21 years ago and it still holds together!

Thankfully, though God calls us all to be builders, He doesn’t call us to be those kind of a builders. In Romans 15:2 Paul writes, “Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.

 

Now this is the kind of building I can (and must) do!

 

Just as any of my builder friends would have to set out with a plan before starting out on a project, building up your neighbor(s) doesn’t happen by accident. In fact, opportunity abounds, but you and I have to intentionally seek the good of others in order to build them up in Christ. Here are two thoughts about building up our neighbors:

 

Build with acts of service.

On the night Jesus was going to be betrayed, he undertook the incredible task of building up His disciples, knowing what storm was soon blowing their way. Taking off his outer garments, the Bible says he stooped down to the floor, rested on his knees and began to wash their nasty feet. Yes, Jesus, the Son of God, Creator of the world, washed the feet of His followers. And when He was done He told them, “I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should to as I have done for you…now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:13-17).

 

In the same way that Jesus built up His disciples by intentionally serving them, we need to build up our neighbors with the same intention. It’s more than just random acts of kindness (though I’m not discounting those, either!), but rather a deliberate attempt to serve in ways that leaves the one served, encouraged. Most of us don’t fail to serve because we don’t see anywhere to serve, we fail to serve because we haven’t prioritized the opportunities in front of us.

 

Build with wise words

In Ephesians 4:29 Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up that it may encourage all those who hear them.” Just as we have to choose to make service an intentional component of what we do, each of us must learn to weigh our words carefully before they are freed from our mouths.

 

When I was a fairly young pastor in my first church in Seattle, one of the best pieces of advice I received from my mentor was to speak little during board meetings with the elders and deacons of the church, especially during the first six months. He told me to just watch and listen, and to learn how these meetings were handled and how the various boards operated. I followed his advice and only offered comments or advice when I was asked.

 

I remember coming to the end of the my first six months and one of the elders of the church caught up with me in the parking lot after one of our meetings. He said, “Joe, for a young man, you have an incredible amount of wisdom!” He shook my hand, hopped in his car and drove off. I smiled and thought, “I’ve spoken so few words in those meetings, my silence made me look wise beyond my years!”

 

Just as I was carefully choosing my words for those meetings, God wants us to carefully use our words in our interactions so that when we speak, we will be building up and not tearing down. Tearing down is easy but using our words to breath life into others requires thoughtfulness, intentionality and lots of practice.

 

So how are you doing at being a builder? Maybe today would be a good day to make a plan to build up your “neighbor” through a thoughtfully planned out act of service. That service might involve running all over town to accomplish, or it could be as simple as a cup of coffee and a listening ear. Or maybe today would be a good day to take inventory of the words that are filling up your speech. Are your words building up those listening? A quick inventory check could reveal what words you need to add your daily use.

 

Go ahead and take the plunge, building others up is better on the water!

It will be worth it.

Joseph Castaneda

It has been 98 days since my last blog post on June 5th. I was actually a little shocked to realize that almost 100 days had passed since I last sat down to write out some thoughts about faith, growth and abundant living. I enjoy blogging, it becomes an avenue for personal expression, book writing and gives me a place to articulate God-given dreams and how I want to chase after them for His glory.

 

So as I sat down to write this post, I wondered why so many days and weeks and months had passed without a single blog post being written.

 

The usual excuses popped in to my head immediately:

 

I’ve been extremely busy! I was traveling a bit in June, then in July, I spoke at a camp in WV, ended on Saturday, at which time I took a flight to CA for a Sunday morning church service, that ended at 11:15am and I was back in the air to Boise, ID for a week of camp by 6pm. I left Boise Saturday afternoon and was speaking in another church that following morning and then our family began a vigorous campaign to pack up, clean up and move out of our apartment. We slowly moved into a new-to-us rental home, that wasn’t quite ready for us, as new floors and a significant remodel were still underway. So while we were living in suitcases and unpacking boxes etc…we also had to prepare for a two week, cross-country family road trip to Salt Lake City. At the conclusion of that trip, on Solar Eclipse Monday, no less, my son and I drove back to Michigan to finish the unpacking before the girls returned a week later. One week after their return, school started. I’ve been extremely busy, not sure where a blog was supposed to fit in to that tiresome schedule!

 

Part-time ministry takes up full-time hours! I’ve been serving anywhere between 15-25 paid hours a week, helping our church with its youth ministry transitions. First I’ve had the privilege of helping the junior high program and now we are serving with the high school program. You should know, though, that part-time ministry, like its full-time counterpart, consumes many more hours than one is compensated for. This isn’t a complaint at any level, it’s just the reality of being in the people business: you don’t ever really get to clock out of work. I don’t get to leave work, at work, and pick it back up next time I’m in the office. People call and text all the time, parents need counseling, students reach out for support, and youth leaders need details and encouragement. As a pastor, when families are in crisis, marriages are in trouble and difficulty strikes someone on your team, you don’t tell them to come back during your regularly scheduled business hours, you find ways to meet their needs, coordinate their care and shepherd the flock. It’s a calling, one that I love, but one that takes it toll on the available hours of each day.

 

I preach every Sunday! There are few tasks which consume my attention more than preaching. Even writing this I feel that momentary pit-of-the-stomach sensation that accompanies the grand sacred task of communicating the Word of God to His people. It’s overwhelming sometimes to consider what God has entrusted us with as His messengers, and each week’s message takes shape under hours of thought, study, prayer and personal growth. Sermon prep can be down right brutal at times, and sermon delivery is exhausting. I am so grateful for those Sunday afternoon naps, my recovery from sermon delivery!

 

My family needs me! Ive been married for over 20 years, and I happen to enjoy being with this woman who makes me laugh, who challenges me to grow and who loves the Lord in ways that inspire me to love Him, too! I have three amazing children who are almost all in the teen years: a 6th grade girl, a 9th grade girl and an 11th grade boy. They are high energy fun, they love to engage and oddly, they still want to be with their father and mother. I love spending time with them, helping them grow as individuals, and even more, helping them become who God made them to be. I want to spend time with them and I try to soak up as much personal time with them as possible.

 

I could list a few more excuses, but I think you get the point: where does blogging or book writing or dream chasing fit into any of this?

 

It’s a fair question to ask, and forces us to assess a key life principle: how can we pursue those God-given passions, those dreams that seem just out of reach, and accomplish everything else that needs to be done? There are no easy answers. Thousands of books have been written, (I’ve read a couple dozen of them—I’ve even written one!) about how to chase after the things God has put on your heart; how to grow into the person God created you to be so that you can do the things God created you to do. At the end of the day the answer is simple, not easy, but very simple: it requires hard work.

 

There are some great methods out there that can help you manage your day, arrange your schedule, stay current on trends and important news updates, help you balance your finances and even manage the kids’ school schedule, but all of them hinge on your ability to do the hard work of applying them personally. That’s when we come face to face with the hardest question of all: is my dream/passion/goal worth it?

 

Sometime before my last blog entry, I watched this video of a young lady performing on stage for America’s Got Talent. I don’t watch the show with any regularity, but I enjoy the clips that circulate on social media and it’s quite likely you’ve already seen this one, too. A sweet 12-year-old girl boldly walks on stage to sing. But she isn’t singing like many of the other contestants, she is singing with a puppet. And when asked why she wants to perform with her puppet mouse Petunia, her goal was simple: “I would really like to keep ventriloquism alive, because it’s really not common, you know?”

 

Do yourself a favor, even if you’ve seen it before, and take 5 minutes to watch this video clip, all the way to the end:

 

I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t tear up the first time I watched this clip. Or the second time. Or the time I watched it right now because I posted the link and decided to watch it again. Darci’s response to receiving the highly sought after AGT, Golden Buzzer stirs something deep in me every time. You see, many contestants go on AGT (or insert your favorite “reality” talent show here) to win. They want fame. They proclaim confidently in their interviews, “I’m here to win!” Some of those contestants have good reason for that confidence and bravado, as years of practice and performance have prepared them for such a grand moment.

 

But Darci’s mission, her simple goal, is to “Help keep ventriloquism alive…” and I’m guessing that her five minute performance that night spiked sales of puppets, stirred peoples’ interest and added rabid viewers to a show that already has a cult-like following.

 

I know she’s only 12, but it’s obvious that she’s already spent hours working on her performance skills. Her calm in front of a national TV audience is unbelievable for such a young performer, and her vocal skills are mesmerizing for someone singing with a closed mouth! She’s organized her young life in such a way as to prioritize practice, she likely has traded outings with friends, or trips to the movies or mall in order to get in “one more practice session” before bedtime.

 

And it is very plain to see, when the AGT judge slammed down the coveted Golden Buzzer, as the golden ticker tape began to fall, Darci’s sheer joy says it all: It is worth it!

 

How much more worth it, how much greater will your joy be, will my joy be, when we stand before God having lived out who He made us to be? Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we will all stand before God to give an account for our lives, to answer the question of whether or not we strived, by God’s grace, to become who God created us to be (Psalm 139) so that we could do what He created us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

 

As I watch Darci weep with joy, as she stands on a massive stage with a national TV audience, as she looks up at the ribbons falling, sees her name in lights, for just a moment, I imagine she had achieved more than she ever thought possible in her young life. Who knows how big her dreams have gotten since then, but one thing is certain: she is keeping ventriloquism alive.

 

Today I’m back to blogging, to writing, to dreaming. I don’t imagine myself to be an immensely talented writer, nor do I envision people who have been counting days between blogs wondering where on earth my profoundly life-changing thoughts have been. I do imagine that God has given me a platform, that He has shaped me to express things in writing about life with Him, and He has put some big dreams in my heart to influence a lot of people for His glory. He has burned the Overboard Life message into my very core: helping believers live their God-designed lives of faith, out of the comfort of the boat, and out on the water where Jesus is building His Kingdom. In the words of Darci, “I want to keep Overboard faith alive!”

 

And this I know: it will be worth it. Chasing after these things will be worth the work of balancing my schedule, of fighting hard for better management and coordination, of giving up things that drain energy and resources and reinvesting in the people and things that invigorate, fill and point me to Jesus. When I stand before the Lord and give an account, it will be a joy that makes Darci’s experience fade as quickly as her five minute performance in the grand scale of life. It will be worth it.

 

What do you need to bring back to the front burner? What habits do you need to restart in order to see pursue those God-given dreams and goals? I know it’s hard. I know you’re busy. I know you’re pulled in too many directions. I know there will be hard decisions to make. And I also know this: it will be worth it.

 

Go ahead and take the plunge—it will be worth it!—life is always better on the water!

How to fling your poop properly

Joseph Castaneda

Our daughter is blessed to receive horse riding lessons from two amazing people here in Northern Michigan. I’ve written a couple of blogs about their horses (and even one about their dog) in the past because they are teaching my daughter about leadership and life; they just happen to be using horsemanship as the tool to convey those lessons.

 

One of the fun parts of CJ’s lessons is that Traci and I have the privilege of serving on their property as a means of giving back to Marc and Kaye. Because I’m a city boy and lack even the most basic of farm skills, I am happy to help with cleaning out horse stalls or scooping up the pasture poop. These tasks require little technical skill and I imagine are usually pretty low on the list of things people want to do, so I’m happy to spend an hour in stalls or in the field.

 

This past week, after filling a trailer with horse-crement, I hopped on the little tractor and distributed the horse poop out on the trails that surround the pasture. The process was quite amusing. I drove the tractor around the pathways while a mechanism in the trailer moves poop to back to these fan-like blades that fling the poop out behind the trailer. Check out the video of my poop distribution ride in action.

 

About half-way through the process, I learned a very interesting lesson: flinging too fast can result in being smacked upside the head with horse poop.

 

You see, when the trailer was a little over half way empty, I decided the process was taking a little too long, so I shifted the tractor into a faster speed. The mechanism that moves the poop to the back of the trailer, and the chain that controls the fan-like blades are all controlled by a little gear box that comes off the tractor. The faster the tractor travels, the fast the mechanism moves the poop back and the faster those blades spin.

 

Incidentally, when the blades move faster, the poop flies further and in a much less controlled fashion. Suddenly I found myself being pelted with horse poop. I don’t mean just one or two little horse bombs coming my way, it started to rain doo doo. The shock of the poop shower took a moment to settle in and to make the connection that my speed on the tractor was the cause of the problem. I slowed down and the poop stopped falling on me.

 

I laughed as I finished up my task and took the tractor and trailer back to their parking spot. I wiped off the poop chunks still on my shirt and realized a valuable lesson: getting rid of poop properly, takes time.

 

When Kaye saw me dusting off, she laughed and said, “Did you learn an important lesson today?” I sure had. And more than just about scooping poop!

 

Like that little trailer I was driving around, each of us has experiences in life that can load us up with burdens, hurts and loss. Sometimes we inflict those things on ourselves and other times they are loaded up on our life-trailer by family members, bosses or even close friends. We’ve all been there in the past, and each of us will be there again in the future because life isn’t how it was originally designed to be.

 

When sin entered the world in Genesis 3, everything changed. Instead of living in a perfect world in a perfect relationship with God and with each other, life got messy. And sometimes that mess just piles up and because we carry it day after day, it becomes cumbersome. Then, when the burden gets so heavy we can barely lift it any more, we have to unload it and sort through the mess(es) we’ve endured. In the messes we find lessons, we find friendship and we always find that God is in it with us.

 

A little over two years ago, when our whole world was turned upside down, everyone in our family ended up carrying some pretty hefty burdens. I suddenly had to deal with the feelings of betrayal, the loss of perceived value, the sense of my own personal worth, the heart-break of telling my family that we were moving again, and the hardship of trying to pay bills, find work and figure out what God was trying to do in my life. The life-trailer was overflowing.

 

10 months after the job change and move, we were finally living a “normal” life in a new town, with the kids enrolled in new schools and Traci and I were back in a bit of a groove. For the first time since the job loss, I took a moment to process and I realized I couldn’t pull my trailer any more. I was discouraged. My heart was beaten down. I had lost motivation and passion.

 

I met with a counselor for a couple of sessions and she reminded me of a very important lesson: removing the poop in your life takes time. If you try to go too fast, you end up throwing it everywhere, it ends up impacting others, and you probably miss out on the valuable lessons you could/should have learned through the process. Up to the point of our first meeting, I had taken my filled up life-trailer and just tried to pull it harder and further, believing I could carry on as normal without any ramifications. My counselor reminded me that loss is real, betrayal is painful, and sorting those things out takes time.

 

In Luke 13:6-9, Jesus tells a parable about a fruitless tree. The tree had been unproductive for three years, and the owner is ready to have it removed. But in verse 8, the man who takes care of the tree says, “Sir…leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.” Three years of fruitlessness and the man who cared for the tree knew this: getting something restored to usefulness takes a lot of time. We aren’t told, but I like to think that the tree was unproductive because it had been damaged. Maybe it had been ravaged by some storm or by a careless caravan of wanderers, but whatever the cause it was damaged.

 

The vineyard caregiver had been watching this tree’s health and he knew, one more year of care and this tree could be fruitful again.

 

Are you walking around wounded? Have you been hurt, betrayed, handed a loss or have that feeling that your life-trailer is overflowing with the suffering that comes from a world that isn’t how it’s supposed to be? Take heart, and take time. The Almighty Creator God of the universe knows your aches. He sent His Son to experience the pain of life so that He could advocate for you and me as one who understands, experientially, what we’re enduring. And He offers grace and mercy to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

 

I’ve been slowly unloading a trailer for 18 months now, and I’m thankful that as I look back it’s almost empty. I know life will fill it up again, and I rest equally certain that my God will help me unload it once again when the time comes. Don’t shortchange the process of grief, loss or pain. Take time to sort through the life-trailer you’ve been pulling around so you can learn valuable lessons and, as the parable teaches us, be made more fruitful for the Kingdom.

 

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