“No Thru Traffic” and the brevity of life.

[BIG NOTE: Our blog is moving! On October 31, the newest Overboard blogs will only be found at http://www.overboardministries.com. We hope you’ll hop on over there and continue following along!]

I try to walk  three to four times a week, partly to keep active and healthy, and partly to keep strengthening my knee after this past summer’s surgery. When I don’t walk with Traci, I often spend my time memorizing verses, praying or just thinking through the challenges and opportunities we’re currently facing. It seems like several blogs have emerged as a result of my walks.

no-thru-parking

On my walk this morning I decided to take a detour through our local cemetery. I chuckled (darkly) as I entered thru the main gate due to the sign that read, “No Thru Traffic.” Indeed, the traffic headed to the cemetery is generally not headed out. And that’s when my stroll turned somber, as I snapped a few pictures, read a few names and tombstones and was reminded of the reality that life is short.

Each tombstone in the cemetery represents a life, a story of someone who lived on this earth and engaged others. With their last names listed boldly for others to see, I began to wonder what these people had been like during their living years. Jackson, Walter, Titus, Campbell, Winter Thornburg, Hansen, Olsen, Eherhardt, Sherwood, White, Kies, Brown…on and on the names emerged from gravesite after gravesite. Some were adorned with freshly cut flowers, others hadn’t been visited in years.

There is something very sobering about a cemetery and the certainty of death. Two years ago I wrote a series of blogs about being at the statistical half-way point of life. Now, as days turn into weeks, and as years roll by, the reality is that one day I too will be in a vehicle that will pass thru the iron gate baring the sign, “No Thru Traffic” and some other walker or jogger will pass by my tombstone and wonder what I was like, and be curious about the kind of life I had lived.

cemetery

Living the Overboard Life isn’t about fame, fortune, prosperity or comfort. Instead, the Overboard Life is a commitment to follow the Lord, whenever He calls, into any situation He has prepared for us. It’s about living life out of the overflow of God’s abundance, touching the heart of others with the life changing message of a relationship with God and living according to the design with which He has created in everyone of us.

Thanks to Jesus, I don’t fear death, but I fear living a small life because I let fear, anxiety and hardship define me more than the truth of who God made me to be. I fear that one day someone will see my headstone, and if they explored my story they would discover a man who let the worries and stress of this life block out the big picture that “could have been” had he grabbed the hand of His creator and lived out Ephesians 3:20: “God can do anything you know, far more than you can ever imagine, guess or request in your wildest dreams!”

I left the cemetery today (thankfully!) oddly encouraged to keep pursuing the Overboard Life. Right now life seems hard but only when I lose sight of the one whom I follow. When I keep focused on Him, I can grab the sides of the boat, jump out on the water and live the remarkable life to which I have been called.

What about you? Are you going through the motions? Are you defining yourself by the past or letting fear and anxiety cripple your future? Find real freedom by focusing yourself on the one who calls you out of the boat, and out on the water where He is doing His Kingdom work. That life will leave an extraordinary mark behind a tombstone some jogger will find on a quiet fall day, on a detour through the cemetery.

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

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Climb just a little higher…

[BIG NOTE: Our blog is moving! On October 31, the newest Overboard blogs will only be found at http://www.overboardministries.com. We hope you’ll hop on over there and continue following along!]

Robert Goddard (1882-1945) may not be a name most of us are particularly familiar with, at least by name, but all of us are familiar with his work. You see, Goddard is considered by many to be the American pioneer of modern rocketry. He was a great scientist and an amazing inventor, the first to launch a rocket using liquid fuel. His scientific research and ingenious inventions made space travel possible for the world. Today, a friend of mine is working on a project to send a man to Mars (yes, people are really working on sending a man to Mars!) and his project is built on the foundational work of Goddard.

During his lifetime, Goddard didn’t seem to receive much of the appreciation or admiration that his scientific record deserved. But over the years, a great deal of research has revealed a lot about him, and his life. One story in particular really struck me as I learned about this amazing man. (Incidentally, if you haven’t been to the Smithsonian Museum of Science and Industry, you must make an effort to see it in DC!)

dr-_robert_goddard_rocketIn his later years, Robert was asked what drove him to succeed. A lot of people had similar ideas about rocketry, but they were dismissed by the public and scientific community at large, and most of them gave up their pursuit of the sky. But Goddard never gave up. When asked, he would relate the following story.

As a young boy, Robert’s parents supported his curiosity and even purchased him basic scientific equipment to encourage his growth in the sciences. Through his experimentation and study, he became enamored with the sky. Out behind the family barn, a tree had grown strategically to give Robert a glorious view of the sky, and from an early age he tried to get as close he could to the stars.

When Goddard first climbed the tree, he saw the night sky in extraordinary fashion, but he wasn’t at the top of tree. The next time he climbed, he found a way to go just a little bit higher and through his effort discovered an even better view of the sky. Each time he got to the tree he took the same approach–climb just a little higher than the day before. Eventually, Robert reach the top of the tree and the best view in orchard.

In the same way, he tested his theories and rockets with the same goal: to climb a little higher with each new launch. Little by little, Goddard reached the top of the tree and little by little, his rockets catapulted men into space.

The past few months in Overboard Ministries could not be described as rocketing to the stars. At times it feels like we’re more grounded than flying, but this principle from Goddard’s life encourages me to press on: just a climb a little higher today than we were yesterday.

While the Apostle Paul probably didn’t have rocketry in mind when he wrote Philippians 3:14, I think he had the same principle in mind: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” You see, we can’t achieve in one day, all that God has called us too, but each day, we can take steps that bring us closer to the goal(s) set before us.

In Ephesians 2:10 Paul wrote, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God’s plans and goals for us require our commitment, our passion, and a willingness to press on one day at time, seeking to move closer and closer to the goal with each day. Some days are difficult and painful, some are slow and plodding, but the goal is the same: press on toward’s God’s calling, doing what He has put in front of us to do.

So the past few months have been hard, but I’m clinging to the words from Paul and the life lesson from Goddard: pressing on just one day at time, trying to climb a little higher each day. Sometimes that climb requires lots of research and preparation, while other times it demands courage and bold action. While each little action may seem insignificant, combined they propel you further along the path towards God’s dreams for you, and that makes each step worth it.

Take the steps in front of you now, and remember, climb just a little higher today, the view will be worth it.

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

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What are you for?

Back in May, Traci and I had the chance to visit with two of our Overboard Ministries supporters in Maryland, and take in a few baseball games with the Seattle Mariners and the Baltimore Orioles. We had a great time sharing about Overboard Ministries, watching baseball and enjoying a few days away together.

During one game, we were sitting in left field while our beloved Mariners were losing. One Baltimore fan was particularly vocal and from the 4th inning on, I started paying extra attention to what he was doing.

He spent the entire bottom of the 4th inning harassing the Mariner’s left fielder. At first it was actually kind of funny, but as the inning and the game wore on, his harassing went from innocent fun to vulgar, crass and occasionally racist outbursts. Even some of his fellow Oriole fans began to ask him to cool it.

Jeremiah and Sara

Our Baltimore friends!

After one three-inning stretch I told Traci, “That guy won’t shut up when our guy is in the field, but he doesn’t say much when his team is up to bat.” We knew what (or who, in this case) this man was against, but if you were just casually watching his behavior, you really wouldn’t know what he was for.

I hope my life is marked more by what I’m chasing, than by what I’m running from; known more by what I’m for than what I’m against.

That’s not some cheesy cliché that removes boundaries and rules from our lives, because you cannot read the Scriptures with any consistency and neglect the “thou shalt not” instructions. Instead, I think it’s a statement that reflects the intentions of God and the way He wants His children to live. Think about these three powerful “for” biblical statements about God’s relationship to us:

“…I [Jesus] have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10)

“What then shall we see in response to this? If God is for us, than who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Yes, the Bible has clear commands about actions, behaviors and thoughts we are to avoid, but that doesn’t mean our life focus should be primarily on those issues. I’m not going to avoid those topics in my teaching and counseling, but I hope my life is marked more by what I’m living for, and not what I’m living against.

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Image from BBC News

I regularly pray that people will see and hear the story of God’s love and mercy from my life and lips, that they will hear about the hope that comes from knowing Him, and that the best life any of us could have, is the one that’s lived in closeness to God. Yes, I will preach against sin, but always in the context of the grace that is offered from our loving Father.

As the Baltimore game came to an end, the loud fan had fired off his last few insults and headed out. I noticed an interesting contrast between him and most of the other fans leaving his section: he wasn’t all that happy even though his team had just won. His face didn’t reflect a smile or joy, instead his eyebrows were still furrowed and he wasn’t talking to anyone on his way out.

I’m confident that man’s actions and words didn’t inspire anything in the baseball fans around him, and I feel fairly certain he didn’t go home feeling very good himself. That’s because it’s hard to lift others up, to stir people to action, by focusing your life on what you’re against.

Let’s take inventory of our lives, and make sure we’re broadcasting message(s) that are worth promoting; messages that encourage others to pursue life with God!

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

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Lessons from waiting

I was in the ninth grade, and I was playing my oldest brother in basketball. He is nine years older than me, and in my short 14-year-old span of life, I had yet to hand him a defeat in a game of one-on-one. On several occasions I had made some shots, developed an early lead and thought, “this time I’m going to win!” only to see my lead evaporate and have to hang my head in shame at another blown opportunity. I was now experienced enough to know I couldn’t take a lead for granted until the game was over.

Most of our games went to 21 (shots counted for one or two points) or 31 (shots counted for two or three points). On this day we were playing to 21 and I was red hot from two point range. I remember that I was up by 4 or 5 points when he made a run and cut the lead to one: I had 20, he had 19. I felt determined to finally beat my oldest brother, but another one of his comeback victories seemed inevitable.

As he went to the hoop trying to tie it up, I blocked his shot, the ball hit off his leg and rolled out of bounds. Now it was my ball with another chance to win. As he “checked” the ball into play, I had a decision to make: Launch a two-point shot (when we only needed one point to win, but we shot a two, we’d declare, “One to win…two to rub it in!” Believe me, I was thinking about it!) or try to use my height advantage to score the illusive game-winning point from close range? I really didn’t want to blow another lead against him.

Have you ever been uncertain of your next move?

If you’ve followed our journey for a while, you know that our Michigan story hasn’t come close to playing out the way we thought it would. A short-lived job, broken promises and dreams, a season of living without a home, cross-country road trips and another school change for our kids has frequently left us wondering what we should do next.

This season of waiting, of wandering in a wilderness of uncertainty, has been painful, full of doubt and discouragement, and at times, it has been down right depressing. It seems like God led us to Michigan to see a series of dreams and goals fulfilled, and while we still believe He is going to work out the Overboard dreams He has given us, it certainly looks so different than we thought it would.

And frequently we’ve been at a crossroads wondering what would be our next move.

More than any other point in life, I feel like I can relate to the journey of the Israelites during their years of wandering in the wilderness. I can only imagine the frustration they must have felt waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plan for them—taking possession of the Promised Land—while they moved about from rock pile to rock pile, oasis to oasis and from one hill of sand to another.

Without question, God had a plan for them, just as I know He is working out His perfect plan for us. But during the journey, during the process of wandering in the wilderness, it is easy to lose sight of His hand at work. Over the past few months we’ve continued to chase the massive dreams He’s given us, and in the process, tried to keep in mind the lessons this season of wandering has taught us. Here are seven truths about God and growth that apply to wandering with Him in the wilderness parts of life.

  1. God is in the wilderness. Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone in the wilderness. I’m sure the Israelites—millions of them!—felt a little abandoned at times during their years of wandering. They had very tangible signs of God’s presence but still, more than once they expressed their frustration about feeling discarded by God’s leadership. Don’t give in to the temptation to doubt God’s presence because life isn’t playing out how you hoped it would. God is in the wilderness, He is present and He is leading toward something, the question isn’t whether or not He is present, it is whether or not you will trust Him!
  2. God is meeting needs in the wilderness. Our wilderness journey has revealed huge needs at times. I’m talking about foundational stuff. When your kids are asking, “Hey dad, where are going to stay tonight?” you know you’re in wandering in a wilderness of uncertainty. But God is in the wilderness and He is meeting needs. When the Israelites needed food, God met that need. When they needed water, He met that need. Since He is in the wilderness with us, He is giving us precisely what we need for the journey.
  3. God is providing refreshment in the wilderness. Not only is God meeting our basic needs while we journey, but He is giving us rest and refreshment while we travel. In one story of wandering Israel (Exodus 15:22-27), the Jews had moved for three days in the desert without finding water. Then, coming to a pool of water that seemed like a life-saver, they discovered that the water was so bitter they couldn’t drink from it! God miraculously cures the water, and then, He leads them on a short trip to a place of rest: a place with 12 crystal clear streams of water, a great pool to drink from (and I’m sure play in!) and 70 palm trees under which you could spread out and rest. Even in the wilderness God turned bitter things sweet and provided rest.
  4. God want us to celebrate in the wilderness. I think this is one of the hardest lessons we’ve learned, but when we practice it, we find such great freedom. Because God is showing up in big ways during our season of wandering, we realize that there are so many reasons to celebrate! In Leviticus 23 God outlines all the celebrations the Israelites were to have, even while they were still wandering in the desert! Yes, a couple of them could not be properly celebrated until they entered the Promised Land, but most of them could be practiced in the wilderness. God wanted them to celebrate His goodness while they were wandering. Have you taken time to celebrate even in your loss, heartache, suffering, confusion, frustration or anger? It’s not easy or natural, but when we look for God’s work we’ll see He really is showing up in our lives. Then, even in our pain, we can celebrate what He is doing, while we still wait for His bigger answers to show up.
  5. God rewards faith in the wilderness. The wilderness is the testing ground of life, the place between where a vision captures our heart (Egypt) and where we see the fulfillment of that plan, goal or dream (Israel). During the testing, God loves to reward us for faithfully following Him. In Numbers 14 there was a rebellion against God and His plan, but two men stood out (11:36-38) and God distinguished them from the others, and He blessed them with long life, physical strength and a special land blessing directly from the Lord. The wilderness wants to foster your doubts, create fear and build anxiety in you, but if you will lean into the Lord even more, you will find He loves to reward those who trust Him in the wilderness.
  6. God provides others in the wilderness. Traveling through the desert can feel lonely, but God has a way of providing others to encourage us along the way. Sometimes they are people who have traveled the road before us, people who can give us a map and show us the way through their own story. Other times it’s people who are traveling with us, people who are sharing the burden as we move from oasis to oasis together. In our lives, we are thankful to have experienced both–the compassion of fellow sojourners and the wisdom of those who have traveled before. Check out Exodus 18 for how God provided others for Moses, a man overwhelmed by the journey and the burden of leadership.
  7. God provides an end to the wilderness. One of the great hopes that keeps us moving through the desert is the knowledge that the wilderness will end! Just as God brought Israel through the desert into the Promised Land, He is leading us through our wilderness–and He is leading you through your wilderness–to place He has prepared next for us. The wilderness is shaping us and preparing us to be ready for the big dreams and goals He has laid on our hearts, and we have confidence that the wilderness will end. He is the God who gives rest to the weary, takes the our heavy burdens and replaces them with His easy-to-carry-yoke, replaces anxiety with peace, weakness with strength and despair with hope. Even more, we know that, ultimately, after this life is over, the wilderness will de destroyed forever! The Bible assures us that after this journey is finished, the next one with God will be wilderness free: “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pay, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

I wish I could tell you the wilderness is fun, that it’s a thrill-a-day, joy-filled experience to walk around in the blistering, refining heat of the desert sun, searching for water and refreshment while be challenged to grow and change in preparation for the future. If you’re in a desert season of life you know that I’d be lying to tell you that the journey is easy and full of peace, that money flows in abundance, physical healing can be found behind every eucalyptus tree, and your troubles melt like lemon drops high among the palm tree tops…

But I’d also be lying if I told you the best solution is run away from the wilderness as quickly as possible. Our season of troubles seems to be intensifying, but I already know I wouldn’t choose any other path. I’m confident that when this wilderness season ends, we will marvel at the work God has done in us, through us and to us; and that change will make the journey worth it!

Which of these seven truths do you need to dwell on today?

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

P.S. I faked the two, got him to jump, and scored a game-winning layup. We still enjoy competing against each other and while the playing field may have leveled, I still don’t beat my brother often. That first win was one of the sweetest!

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God cares about running shoes

I’m currently in the process of recovering from knee surgery and slowly getting back out on the streets and sidewalks of Kalkaska, building up my walking (and soon, running!) stamina. Before surgery I was walking 3-4 miles, several times a week, and now I’m lucky to get 1-2 miles, 2-3 times a week. Thankfully, my times are getting faster and my distances are lengthening.

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These old shoes have seen a lot of miles!

Prior to my surgery, though, I was a little worried about my shoe situation. I purchased two pair of shoes (the exact same brand/style) a couple years back when Traci and I were training for our first 1/2 marathon, and I was still wearing the second of those two pairs just weeks before my surgery. Good running shoes can be pretty spendy, and this current season of life hasn’t given us a lot of extra resources for $125 running shoes.

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I actually think running bare foot would have provided more cushion =)

Honestly, I was thanking the Lord that my shoes had lasted so long but I knew that with the upcoming procedure I was going to need to replace my old and worn shoes. I’m sure the shoe’s paper-thin sole wasn’t helping my knee problem anyway, and putting them back on after surgery seemed like a terrible idea for a speedy recovery.

So Traci and I both prayed for the resources to replace those shoes.

Even as I type that sentence, it sounds silly to me. With so much going on in our lives and in the world around us, praying for running shoes seems like a pretty low priority.

A couple of weeks after we began praying for shoes, Traci came home from a ladies’ event at church with a large bag containing gifts. There was a smaller package for her, and…you guessed it…a shoe-box sized package for me. God didn’t just send along any old pair of running shoes, He sent along the exact same brand of shoe I had been running with before my surgery. And…I even liked the color.

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Can you tell which pair are the new ones? I know it’s tough, but look closely =)

This morning as I laced up my shoes for a two mile walk (my longest so far!), I paused for a moment to think about my shoes. If God cares about these running shoes, so much so that He even made sure I received the brand, size and color that I would have chosen myself, how much more does He care about the bigger issues of life—the ones that keep us up at night?

In Matthew 6:28-34 Jesus gives us some fine advice about the worries of this life: “…See how the flower of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all His splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you?” And this passage finished up with these words: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow…

What a profoundly clear and simple promise of God. If I could modernize this for a moment, it might have sounded like this: “Joe, if I care so much about you recovering from your knee surgery that I gave you brand spankin’ new shoes, the exact brand, size and color you would choose. Those shoes are going to be worn out in a few months time after you get walking and running again, so how much more do I care for life’s big problems? And think about it, if I can adorn your feet like I did without breaking a sweat, are you really going to worry about how I will take care of your other needs, too?”

I can’t think of one positive benefit to worry. In fact worry has been linked to so many mental and physical health problems that I think Jesus’ point is pretty clear: worry will pretty much suck the joy out of your life, but as long as you stay connected to me, you can stop worry from stealing your joy no matter what you’re walking through today.

Whatever you’re going through today, whatever problems or challenges you may face tomorrow, don’t add worry to the list. Instead, embrace the words of Matthew 6 and remember that the God who provides food for birds and makes flowers beautiful despite their temporary nature, is the same God who meets the needs of His children. Pray and trust Him, and then watch for your “running shoes” to show up in an unexpected package.

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

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Sometimes life is so simple!

Two weeks ago I had the joy of taking CJ to her first concert. We attended the Big Daddy Weave, Beautiful Offerings Tour, with Jordan Feliz and Plumb. It was a fantastic show and we had a blast together.

During the show, CJ walked from our “cheap seats” to the front row, where she stood just a few feet from the stage. She took pictures of the performers and even gave Plumb a little wave (and receiving one back!) as the artists performed a very engaging concert.

After each artist had performed a small set, Big Daddy Weave took the stage for a few songs. Then, following a short intermission, all three artists were on stage at the same time, and they led the audience in some great worship sets. As I looked down front at CJ, I noticed something precious: She was all-in during the worship set.

CJ is down in front, with her arm raised high, singing her heart out to God!

CJ is down in front, with her arm raised high, singing her heart out to God!

I could tell she was singing loudly, and as she swayed with the music with her hands in the air, she was thinking of nothing else but the music she was enjoying the words she was singing. It was beautiful.

White watching her enjoy the concert, I thought about all the things she wasn’t thinking about. She wasn’t worried about the upcoming election. She wasn’t worrying about the world terrorism issue, the bathroom debate or local law enforcement concerns. Not once did she ponder our family’s financial situation or even what we would eat on the way home. After the concert when I asked her what she was doing up front? She looked at me puzzled and said, “singing and worshipping, God…and waving to Plumb.”

Sometimes, life is so simple. Just sing, worship God and wave to Plumb!

In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul writes, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” It’s so simple, just do everything you do with the aim of bringing glory to God. It’s simple, but certainly not easy.

Watching CJ I was reminded me of the key ingredients for making 1 Corinthians 10:31 a reality.

Don’t worry about what others around you are thinking. As Celina sat up front, took pictures, sang and waved to artists, she didn’t care what anyone else around her was thinking. She was living completely in the moment, almost as though there weren’t 1,000 other participants in the auditorium. It’s hard to live a life that brings glory to God, when you spend time trying to make sure others are happy with the way you are living.

Me and CJ enjoying a photo op with Jordan Feliz!

Me and CJ enjoying a photo op with Jordan Feliz!

Engage in daily activities at 100%. Have you ever been doing one activity, while being focused more on the next activity? How about with food? Have you ever been eating, and while you’re still chewing one meal, you are already thinking about the next one? I am confident that one of the ways we bring glory to God in everything we do, is by being 100% engaged in whatever is in front of us, now. It doesn’t mean loving everything we’re doing, but it means giving it our all, our full attention, so that we are giving our best and not our left overs.

Enjoy what you do. While we may not love everything we do, we must be able to find joy in every task. As my close personal friend, Mary Poppins, has said, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!” Joy is a big ol’ dose of sugar that can overcome any kind of medicine. Maybe that’s why the writer of Hebrews tells us, that Jesus, “for the joy set before Him, endured the cross…” Jesus swallowed the bitterest pill of all (our sin!) with joy!

CJ and I had a great time talking with Plumb, taking some pics (Including one very silly one!) and having a CD signed. By far, CJ's favorite person of the night!

CJ and I had a great time talking with Plumb, taking some pics (including one very silly one!) and having a CD signed. By far, CJ’s favorite person of the night!

Savor the sweet moments, but don’t live in the past. A couple days after the concert, CJ and I looked thru the hundreds (yes…hundreds!) of pictures she had taken that night. It was truly a sweet night for her, and she savored it fully. Having her picture taken with Jordan Feliz and Plumb may well have given her the greatest satisfaction in her short ten year life span. And yet, as satisfying as it was, she wasn’t spending her day lamenting about “the good ol’ days” at the concert last weekend. She was fretting that she doesn’t presently have another concert on her agenda, nor the fact that she still owes her parents a couple of dollars for the extra CD she purchased from Plumb. She savored the moment for what it was, but she isn’t living her life in the past. If you cling to the past for any length of time, you will soon find it difficult to live 1 Corinthians 10:31 in the present.

Life is pretty simple sometimes, especially when we boil it down the basics. The king of basics? do everything in life with the goal of bringing glory to God. Do that, and you will be living the Overboard Life!

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

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Smacked by Perspective

Have you ever been smacked upside the head by a healthy dose of perspective? You know, like you’re driving through town, ticked at the erratic driving skills (or lack of!) of the person you are following and suddenly–Bam!–perspective hits!

So last week, I was driving through town, ticked at the erratic driving skills (or lack of!) of the person I was following when perspective decided to deliver a crushing blow to my ego. Honestly, I feel like I was set up.

Our little town’s main street is four lanes wide, with a short section of 35mph (two or three blocks) while the rest of the main drag allows vehicles to travel at 45mph. I was driving in the section that is 35mph, preparing to weave my way through the residential part of Kalkaska in order to get to the middle school where my daughter, BJ, was finishing up track practice.

As I was ready to turn, I had to wait for a vehicle coming from the opposite direction, whose driver apparently did not know the speed limit, nor the destination to which they were headed. The driver switched lanes erratically and then slowed to a near stop in the middle of the intersection in which I was trying to make a left-hand turn.

I was fairly annoyed, noting another car coming from the same direction meaning I would have to wait another few moments before making my turn. It’s when I contemplated calling down curses from the sky on the elderly person who was driving the little red car that Perspective showed up with 2×4.

At that moment, the little red car turned right on the street on which I was preparing to turn left, and then they pulled in to the parking lot of of the first business; the funeral home. That’s right, they were grieving the loss of a loved one and stopping by for the visitation that was taking place that afternoon. And I was mad that I had to wait an extra 22-seconds to make my turn.

Funeral HomeI’m a pretty laid-back driver, and while I might chirp occasionally at someone else’s demonstrated skills – don’t get me started on unobservant gender specific SUV drivers talking on their cell phones! – I’m not one to honk my horn, fire off any kind of gesture or stare and shake my head condescendingly as though I don’t make any mistakes as a driver. I’m especially glad I didn’t lay on my horn and scream at the couple in the little red car last week.

As I drove past the funeral home I was struck by the contrast in emotions in our two cars. In the little red car, there was a heaviness and sadness, probably a sense of loss, and, as is pretty common with funerals and death – an awareness of their own mortality. In the little red PT Cruiser driving by, frustration had been replaced by shame and humility; a sense of irritation was being replaced with compassion. After all, would I rather be a running a few minutes late picking up my daughter, or showing up on time to a loved one’s funeral?

I’m reminded of Matthew’s words about how Jesus viewed people in Matthew 9:36. When Jesus saw people who were “harassed and helpless,” people who were discouraged and facing trials, Matthew say, “He had compassion on them…” He wasn’t frustrated by their lack of direction. He wasn’t irritated by their neediness. He wasn’t put off by their sorrow or slowness. Jesus looked out on people around Him and He had compassion.

If I had been driving that day with Jesus’ attitude as my model, I might better have applied Paul’s words in Colossians 3:12. I would have been driving with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” and I wouldn’t have had to face the shame and regret of thinking evil of some grief-stricken driver trying to find the location of a dead friend or family member.

How would your day be different if you looked at others with compassion? If you started your day thinking about kindness, humility, gentleness and patience instead of how to get to work faster, how to avoid that annoying student or co-worker, how to beat the “unfair system” you don’t like or how to get even with you overly loud neighbor, I believe you would find yourself far more satisfied when you put your head on the pillow at night.

Everyone has a story, and when we live with compassion we will care about the journey of others, and usually, find a way to encourage them on the way.

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

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Living like the UPS man

Traci and I just attended a weekend seminar on the topic of generosity. We enjoyed an awesome time with old friends, made some new friends and were challenged by the biblical teaching and practical lessons on generosity. I’m sure there will be some future blogs coming from this amazing weekend.

One of the take-a-ways for me came from a group discussion about how God’s Word emphasizes our lack of ownership in this world. The concept is so backwards because most of the time we are working so hard to own more, to have more and to expand our little piece of earth. We congratulate people who buy more and bigger things and we dream about what owning a bigger house might look like and how we might use it for good.

Of course, ownership isn’t a sin, and having a nice car and big house doesn’t violate any commands in God’s Word. The problem is how we view our possessions, our money and the different resources He has given us. This past weekend we were given the acronym LIFE to categorize all these things: Labor, Influence, Financial resources, Expertise. All of these items are gifts from God, and truthfully, none of them are ours.

UPS

The United Parcel Services logo. You know you’re thinking it: “What can brown do for you?”

You see, God views us as managers, not owners. Jesus told many parables about our relationship to LIFE, and in each one of them we are the workers, the servants and the managers of what the owner possesses. One person in our group described it this way: “We’re like the UPS driver. If he were to take any of the packages home, he would be stealing. His job is just to move them from one location to the other.”

What a perfect description of what the Overboard LIFE should be! We aren’t the owners of the gifts, talents, riches, expertise and skills God has given us, but we are the managers – the delivery men – to oversee how those things are used for God. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 Paul reminds us that what God gives us is meant to be given away to someone else. In that passage  he specifically states that when God provides comfort for us, He intends for us to give that comfort to others. We aren’t the new owners of comfort, we are just delivery men (and women!) to pass along what God has graciously given to us.

Later, in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul describes our relationship to money the same way: we are managers and middlemen, not owners. God has provided for our needs, and He intends that we maintain an open hand toward generosity, not a closed hand toward scarcity. God rewards generosity in so many ways (I found at least 12 rewards of generosity in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15), so He challenges us to trust Him! Malachi 3:10 states it best, “‘Test me in this [generosity]’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have enough room for it.’”

So are you an owner or a delivery man when it comes to what God has given you? I want to handle my possessions and resources like the UPS man, delivering the bounty of God’s blessings to others as He continues to supply all my needs as only He can.

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

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Scoffing at a million dollars

Last Tuesday I surprised my son after school with a man date to the theaters – it was time we watched Batman vs Superman. Since his routine is to grab a bite to eat as soon as school gets out, we swung by McDonald’s for a quick bite. While standing in line we started talking about the Monopoly game pieces they give out, and AJ asked, “If you won a million dollars from the game, how much would you actually receive?”

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We visited the “Rock-n-Roll” McDonalds in Chicago a few summers back

I told him that I had read a story of instant millionaires, and that most of them were shocked that they only received about 35-40%, between $600-$650,000/per million after taxes. AJ was appalled. He said, “You’d think that a business like McDonald’s could afford to give someone a million dollars after taxes. I mean, they make billions a year, so a million really isn’t that much!” My son was complaining about a million bucks.

Naturally, I informed him that if he won the instant cash on his game piece, I would happily relieve him from the burden of disgust that he’d bear for only receiving $650,000 for a burger purchase he didn’t even make! I can almost hear his disdain now: “I’m not taking this $650,000 prize that my dad purchased for $4.48. If your greedy multi-billion dollar corporation won’t pay me a full million George Washington’s…I’m not interested!”

Goodness.

While AJ was in his righteous indignation toward McDonald’s, I asked him this: why are you mad a McDonald’s for giving away $1,000,000? They aren’t the ones taking out $400,000, and whether or not you receive the full million, it cost them the full million bucks to do the give-a-way! He pondered that for a moment.

I wonder how many other people feel the same way AJ does about McDonald’s $1,000,000 prize? I bet there are quite a few and I think the reason is simple: we are becoming a thankless culture of entitlement. And when I take an honest look at my life, I can see areas where the culture of thanklessness has crept into my life, too.

AJ pondered the little question I asked him then he laughed and said, “That’s a good point. They are still giving me $650,000 for the five bucks I paid for a burger.” Of which I quickly reminded him that he didn’t even pay the $5 – truly his would have been a free $650,000 prize!

Sounds silly doesn’t it? I mean, can you imagine actually becoming upset at a fast food joint for only giving you $650,000 for eating at their restaurant? What obligation do they have to give you anything at all? What duty of theirs is it to offer any kind of prize, let alone a million dollar jackpot that you do nothing to earn. In fact, like all games of this nature in the U.S., you don’t even have to pay to participate–you can write-in to receive game pieces in the mail, and a chance to win prizes for the cost of a postage stamp.

This year’s presidential race seems to be focused on our nation’s lack of gratitude and our demand for more. More help. More money. More schooling. More freedom. More opportunity. More tolerance. More government. More…more…more…

It’s crazy how easy it is to demand more, to feel some sort of entitlement for status/prizes/grades etc… that we’ve done nothing to deserve. Instead of gratitude for the kindness, generosity and hard work of others, we demand more; and often, more than we’d demand of ourselves if the tables were turned.

I’m reminded of a parable Jesus once told about a servant who had a massive debt. He went to his wealthy master and pleaded for debt forgiveness, acknowledging his deficit and truthfully stating the obvious–he would never live long enough to repay the debt he owed. In pity, the master forgave the debt and sent the servant home.

You’d expect a little gratitude wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong.

The servant leaves his master’s house and on the way home finds a fellow servant who owes him a couple of bucks. Remember, he had just been forgiven millions of dollars in debt, and what does he do? He demands full payment of what’s owed him and threatens legal punishment if the guy doesn’t hand over the dough. Word gets back to the wealthy master and he isn’t pleased at all. He points out the absurdity of the moment–a man forgiven millions won’t forgive a man who owes him $5!–and then punishes the unforgiving servant as severely as possible. His lack of gratitude became his downfall.

Thankfulness is a conscious choice. It’s a choice to respond to circumstances, good and bad, with an attitude of gratitude regardless of what we get out of the deal. My son AJ could have moped at McD’s, sulking about the corporation’s perceived greed and missed out on the fact he just received a free meal, had a chance (free!) to win some cash (of which he did not) and then we laughed ourselves silly watching a video on my iPhone. I’m glad he chose thankfulness.

In Colossians 3:15-17, in the midst of three major commands for believers, Paul sprinkles in three commands for thankfulness. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18 we are told, “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” In Romans 1:21 part of the condemnation of sinners is their lack of thankfulness toward God. In 2 Corinthians 9 we are told of the thankfulness of others because of our generosity. Multiple times Jesus prayed for a meal, “giving thanks” for the food. In almost everyone of Paul’s letters he begins with some aspect of thankfulness for the people to whom he is writing.

The point is clear: we are to be a thankful people!

Here’s a challenge for you (for me, too!) today. The next time you feel angered by some poor service, frustrated by someone’s lack of [insert action here], a rude comment, or you see some disparity that makes you cry out, “Unfair!”–see if you can find something in that situation for which you can be thankful.

I’ve started a new, self-guided journal, that I’m using for the next 13-weeks. At the start and end of each day I’m to list three things for which I’m thankful. The belief is that starting and ending the day with gratitude is a huge part of finding success in life. It has been an awesome practice, and one that I plan to continue after I’m done using this journal. Is it a practice you need to start?

The Overboard Life is a thankful life. Ultimately, everything we have is from the Lord, and He has forgiven us the greatest debt of all–the debt of our sins that cost Him, His life. When we complain, whine, scream and throw fits over what we don’t have, we are very much like the servant in the parable Jesus told, and you can’t walk on water living with ingratitude.

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

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Happy Titanic-a-versary

104 years after her loss, there is something still captivating about the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic. The first “unsinkable” ship of her kind, the Titanic struck an iceberg three days into her maiden voyage and on April 15th, 1912, she sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, killing over 1,500 of her passengers.

Within weeks of her sinking, a full investigation was launch and top ship builders and and scientists assembled to give their insights into how the 900’ ocean liner dropped over two miles to the bottom of the sea. The general consensus was the same: a giant gash in the front hull allowed thousands of gallons of water to enter the ships holding tanks and drop the floating fortress like a rock.

One of the ships primary engineers, however, believed that a single a gash in the hull was nearly an impossible cause of damage. While one or two of the ships dozen air tanks would fill up, it seemed improbable that enough damage would be done to down the entire boat. In fact, the ship was designed to withstand several (3-4, maybe even 6!) of it’s tanks to flood and still float long enough to get survivors safely off.

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Titanic Bow (image from National Geographic)

This one engineer, Edward Wilding, believed that it was a series of smaller gashes that led to the Titanic’s rapid plunge into the murky waters of the Atlantic. He was almost laughed out of the discussion, until 77 years later, when divers inspected the ship’s wreckage for the first time. Guess what they discovered? Six, small gashes across several points in the hull of the Titanic were the reason for its demise. The single gaping hole theory was disproved.

 

I read about this and it made me think about a friend I know who sacrificed his marriage for a year long sexual fling with his secretary. He was a pastor and I heard him share his story one morning with several other men. You see, he didn’t wake up one morning and think, “Today would be a great day to destroy my wife, disappoint my children, lose my job and the work I love and ruin another marriage by having sex with my secretary.”

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Underwater images of the Titanic, taken over 80 years after her sinking (photo: National Geographic)

Instead, his affair began three years before he slept with his secretary when he started noticing her outfits (small gash). They began, subtly, to flirt with each other (small gash), and then he found himself looking forward to working together with her on projects (small gash). They had opportunity to travel together a couple of times (small gash), and their conversations became more and more intimate and personal (small gash). They started meeting together secretly for meals (small gash) and ultimately made plans for a lunch meeting (small gash) that turned into a sexual encounter at a swanky out-of-town hotel (ship sank).

 

As I think about this friend, I wonder how many small gashes I’ve allowed into my life? Our enemy loves the subtle attacks on our hearts and minds, inserting subtle beliefs that slowly leads us downward. You know, ideas like, “it’s ok to look, as longs as you don’t ‘act out’ on it” or, “everyone else is doing this, even your church friends, so it can’t really be that bad.” The rapid plunge to the bottom occurs after the small gashes have done their damage.

What small gashes are keeping you from living the fullness of the Overboard Life? Maybe if you’re honest, the plunge is about to start, and today, today is the day you confess your sin to God and embrace the forgiveness He offers and spiritual repair that only He can provide!

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

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