The Purpose Obsession

One early morning week day, I decided to hike along the Sacramento river (15 minute bike ride from my house) and spend some time in nature doing some reflecting and praying. The journey to that part of the river consists of riding through big buildings where white collar workers are going to and fro from their offices. Right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of lawyers, bankers, government workers, and so on is this massive river that flows right through the heart of it. Every where around the river, time is a scarcity, but hike down into the river bed and time stands still and is almost nonexistent. No to-do list, no deadlines, nowhere to be, and no concern of “am I being productive enough?” I went thinking I would write down some thoughts, maybe read, or pray about specific things, but once I got there I just became so awe stricken by the beauty around me that I couldn’t help but sit and admire. I just wanted to “be,” instead of “do.” Then once I had walked out of the river bed, and entered back into the thriving city, I was struck by the sense that I had just entered into a completely different world. I came out of a place where time is irrelevant with no lists of things to get done, into one where productivity is number one priority and time is scarce. One world is the land of human-being, and the other is of human-doing. How can there be such different worlds side by side each other? Is one better than the other? We all need to work and make money, no question about that, but we also need take the time to admire and find the beauty in what is around us: nature, people, friends and family, hobbies, etc. There is a balance and a rhythm to be acquired if we are going to live well. When our lives have no rhythm, our spirit begins to revolt.

What are the signs and indicators that our lives are out of balance? I heard a statistic recently that the biggest fear of the generation of my parents (Generation X) was and is public speaking, and the biggest fear of my generation (millennials) is living a life without meaning and purpose. Quite the difference from the generation before mine. How did meaning become such a scarcity? What changed in one generation? It could stem from globalization, social media, greater awareness of the plight of the world, or many other things. But one thing for sure is that purpose has become somewhat of an obsession of our time.

How do we find meaning in life? Where does it come from? Many perceive it to come from accomplishments and success in the workforce and/or from serving others in some kind of ministry. The motif of our day is, “every day give 110%, push through when you feel burned out, be hungry for success, and give yourself to something bigger than your self.” Which can be helpful if we come from a lazy upbringing or culture, but one thing this creates is a culture that is obsessed with productivity, where taking a day off and resting is seen as lazy and unproductive. How many times have we heard someone say, or said so ourselves, that we just had a lazy day and did nothing and it is seen as something negative. Rest has become almost something of a taboo. The recipe for success seems to be working crazy long hours, and if we feel empty, we just need to work harder and climb faster.

Even in the Church realm, every youth conference and Christian college I ever went to indoctrinated us in how we are destined for greatness and how we are going to go and do great works for the kingdom. A motif that has some truth, but the by product of this is a culture that defines meaning and value by how much we accomplish for God. Again, communicating that meaning comes from accomplishment in something different than an average living. It is as if our obsession over purpose has caused us to wage a war on the average and mundane of life. Which results in an abundance of restless wanderers going to and fro, trying this and that in their quest for meaning and purpose and never being able to grasp it. Christian philosopher Peter Rollins says often, “there are two states that permeate humanity: depression and melancholy. Depression is not having what you want, melancholy is obtaining what you want and not being satisfied. Most of our lives are spent going back and fourth between the two.” Work is good and essential, but when it becomes a means to gain meaning and purpose, it becomes an oppressive idol that demands more and more of our time and energy and is never satisfied. We have set the bar so high of what a good life looks like, that it is impossible to grasp it. If we do happen to attain some level of this high expectation, we are often greatly disappointed and find ourselves asking the question, “if this is the good life, why doesn’t it feel like it?”

Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.” What is interesting about this is we live in a culture that sees contentment as settling for mediocrity, something to raise our fists about. Think of how many conversations we have with people about, “so what are you going to do next?” As if whatever they have done up to the present can’t be it for them. In Genesis 4:12, part of the curse of Cain for killing his brother Abel is, “You shall be a wanderer on the earth.” Our culture today (maybe subconsciously) would look to this pronouncement over Cain as something awesome and to be grasped. Keep searching, keep striving, keep wandering – we praise this behavior. It is so difficult for us to enjoy what is in front of us, to be in the present and enjoy where we currently are in life. We are constantly formulating our next move in life. We live in the land of human-doing, similar to that of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt where value was attached to how productive they were and how many bricks they could lay. Very little is lived in the land of human-being, where value comes from being created by a personal, loving God; where value is not measured by productivity and accomplishment. The faulty perception of our place in God and in the world breeds a life with no rhythm and causes us to live under an oppressive taskmaster that is always demanding more.

Meaning and value is intrinsic to our being. We are created with it already in us. searching, working, grasping for meaning and purpose is a futile enterprise because we are working tirelessly for something we already have. To be human, is to have meaning and value. I have talked to many people, who being unsatisfied or discontent with their lives, or with their city, seek to add value by foolishly thinking they need to move away and do something radical in order to acquire it. I have been that person, there was a time when I thought if I could just be in full-time skate ministry my life would be enough and I would be satisfied, but then I got it and I was miserable. As Peter Rollins points out, I went from depression (not having what I want), to melancholy (getting what I want and realizing it wasn’t as satisfying as I had envisioned). If we are ever going to have rest, we need to realize that we are created with all the meaning and value already in us, it is not something we go out and acquire with some great feat of success.

Work is good and is something we are created to do. Even in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate from the tree, Adam was told to name the animals and tend to the garden. It is a vital part of living. Some set the bar too low and settle when it is not necessary and are not even open to the idea that maybe they could do more. Some set the bar so high that they live in a perpetual back and fourth of depression and melancholy, constantly striving in a hopeless pursuit that happiness and meaning are just around the corner. Never resting and never being able to do anything that doesn’t bring them a sense of productivity. It is good to be productive, but meaning doesn’t come from that. Meaning comes from being created in the image of God. It is something that we are born with already inside of us, it is not something we need to strive to acquire. Recognizing this frees us from the taskmaster we willingly submit ourselves too. We are created to work, but we are also created to rest and to reflect on our work. As the Jewish sabbath was implemented to remind the Israelites that had just come from Egypt that their worth does not come from how many bricks they could lay, but in being His people. Every week they were expected to take a day to rest and to reflect on their work as a way to safeguard living in constant anxiety of, “are we doing enough?” We work from a place of rest, from a place of already knowing we are enough, and that we don’t work to acquire worth.

The reason we are so afraid of living a life without purpose and meaning is because we are always being encouraged to obsess over it, from every spectrum of our society. Which has given rise to a new race of “nomadic millennials.” Always wandering looking for purpose, working long hours and sacrificing our health and our relationships in order to attain it. Always coming up short, and foolishly thinking that maybe we just need to acquire more and work harder. We have bought in to the deception that value and meaning is something we acquire from without, rather than something from within, something that we are created with already in us. When we look to add value and meaning to our lives through success, productivity, and being busy. It throws our spirit out of balance and into a never ending quest for something we already have. The fear of living a life without purpose really comes down to an issue of identity. Where does our identity come from? From making our mark and accomplishing a lot of great things? Or does it come from growing with our maker and becoming more and more into the person He created us to be. The latter doesn’t require us to obsess over our purpose and to always make sure we are working as hard as we can to somehow earn our keep in this world. We live day by day, one step at a time, making the most of every moment God puts in front of us. For our worth comes from being His creation, not from building some great name for ourselves and being awesome.

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Celebrating Differences

I recently had the privilege of staying with my brother and his wife along with their six kids (ranging from 12 years old to 4 months) and every time I spend time with them, I am always fascinated by all the little personalities. One is highly aware of everything around her and can navigate people to her home from just about anywhere; one is a human encyclopedia and can tell you everything from just about anything; one is a little goofball with no filter that says whatever comes to mind that keeps everyone around her laughing; and one is a little performer that at age 2 makes everything into a microphone to sing into and will get on top of a table and start singing and dancing. So many different personalities going on to keep you laughing, entertained, informed, and on the right path. Every time I spend time with my brother and his family I can’t help but be amazed by how unique God has made every human being and how we all bring something different to the family and to society.

But what if… we all started to believe Gabrielle (the goofball) is the true way to live and be in the world, and Emrich (the little performer) is everything that is wrong with the world? On the individual or family level, this hardly happens, but if a bunch of people like Gabrielle got together and called themselves the goofball party and began believing and preaching that they were the true way, and a bunch of people like Emrich got together and called themselves the Performer party and did the same, then all the sudden we have something that is a lot more common. One side is sanctified as “thee way” and the other is demonized as everything that is wrong with the world.

In Church History, there are many times when one person or group of people, started teaching something that wasn’t commonly believed by the Church at large. It would create some rifts and controversy, then the church would call a council and have all the bishops come together and they would hash it out and come to a conclusion. Sometimes it would end peacefully, and sometimes it would create a Church split, then another, and then another, and now there are almost as many church denominations and non-denominations as there are people. This is something the world, and even Christians look to and think, “why can’t Christians get along.” All the church splits are looked at with disdain and carry a level of disgrace. To an extent it is, but what if this is something that at times could be celebrated? We all know people are made very uniquely, and act, believe, and worship in many different ways, so if we can celebrate the wide range of human personalities on a individual level, why can’t we on a communal level? We don’t all have to have the same exact church service with all the same doctrines and traditions, but we can still be friends and learn from each other.

In this world, we generally fall into one camp or the other, and blame whatever camp we are not in for everything that is wrong with the world. If you’re a Democrat, it’s the Republicans. If you are a conservative, it’s the liberals. If you’re LGBT its the evangelicals, if you’re Protestant it’s the Catholics, and vice versa for all of the above. Every side and every church thinks they are the true and best way to live, and sees little to no good in anyone that disagrees with them. This comes with it the notion that, “if everybody could just be more like me, the world would be a much a better place.” But without anyone that opposes us, or contradicts are set ways, we are much less able to grow and develop.

We have all heard the saying, “opposites attract,” when it comes to dating. My wife and I are very opposite in how we handle conflict, communicate, interact with people, and sometimes even how we see the world. Because I am always being challenged and contradicted by my wife, I have learned a lot of things about myself that I would otherwise be blind to. If I was married to someone that was just like me in every way, then I would just have everything that I already believed about myself and the world reflected back at me and I would never grow or learn anything. If it wasn’t for the differences, and the contradictions, I would never know the truth about myself. We generally are blind to the fact or refuse to admit that there is any fault or flaw in us, and what may be even worst, is that people are more often than not afraid to tell us. So we can easily go on living our whole life thinking we never do anything wrong or annoying and that we have it all together. Therefore becoming more and more set in our ways and never feeling the need to work on ourselves.

The animated action-comedy movie Megamind with Will Ferrell, is a story about a hero and a villain battling it out as always, but in this story the villain actually defeats the hero and the villain goes on to live happily ever after… Or so we would think. Not much time goes by before he becomes depressed and miserable because he has no one to challenge him. He even tries to create his own super hero to fight him, but it doesn’t end up working out like he thought. This is the logical conclusion if we all got what we think we wanted and lived in some utopia where nobody ever disagrees with us or challenges us… depressed and miserable.

Imagine a world where we could celebrate differences and embrace all people. Even within Christianity there are many personalities and differences of opinion, and it is ok! it is expected. If God made us all so different, then His church will also be different and have a certain amount of variety. There is no truest, or best way to worship and believe in our faith, and the same goes for politics, and world-views. As soon as we start believing that we got it figured out and have grasped “thee way,” we have stopped listening to people that don’t believe and act like us, which in turn makes us no longer teachable. People and differences need to be celebrated if we want to keep learning and developing as individuals and as a society. If we can celebrate the uniqueness of the human race on the individual level (for example my brother’s six kids), then why can’t we on the communal level with religion, faith, politics, and world views?

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The Core

Make it Our Own blog

I was looking through a transworld skate magazine the other day and came across this quote:

Skateboarding starts and ends with you…  No one owns what skateboarding is and no one can control it because it’s yours, not theirs. You have the power to make it whatever you want. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Don’t worry about the olympics. Don’t worry about the big corporations taking over. None of that matters as long as you take it back to where you started; just you and your skateboard rolling solo…. skateboarding will be just fine. -Jamie owens, Editor in Chief – Transworld Magazine.

There always seems to be this concern or fear among skateboarders (especially those who have been in it for a while) that the brotherhood and the core values in skateboarding is dying, and that all the corporate money being thrown into it is the problem.  Skateboarding has grown a lot in the last twenty years, skateparks are everywhere, big corporations like Nike, Adidas, and New Balance have tapped into the industry, and it is soon to be in the olympics. With all the athletic companies in skateboarding now, it has come a long way from the tight knit, punk, outcast persona into something more diverse, clean cut and sporty. It is not uncommon anymore to see a skateboarder dressed like he just came from the golf course or the basketball gym, which is the image of skateboarding that is marketed to us by all the big companies. Legendary pro skateboarder Andrew Reynolds said in an interview, “A bunch of rich people are trying to figure out how to make skateboarding into a boring jock spot, but f…. that, I’m going to keep it raw, and I hope you do too.” Where is skateboarding going? Will the brotherhood be lost? Has it strayed too far from its roots? Or has it just gotten so big and accessible that it has become more diverse with many different styles. When something is small, there is a greater sense of, “we all need to stick together.” But when it gets big, and a lot of people are doing it, that naturally begins to dwindle a little bit. But no matter what happens to skateboarding, it can never be damaged at the core – just you and your board.

Just about every culture and subculture that has grown substantially from its humble beginnings has the concern of “where is it going?” We see beauty of what it has been in the past, and fear what it may become in the future. Churches and Christians have done lots of good things, but they have also done lots of bad things. Many times in history, churches and pastors with lots of influence have made Christ and Christianity out to be hateful, argumentative, judgmental, and sometimes even violent. Paul says in Romans 2:24 to the Christians in Rome, “The Name of God is discredited among the nations because of you.” After the Orlando shooting at a gay night club in 2016, a Baptist preacher in Sacramento praised the death of the 50 people that were massacred and preached that this was God’s divine judgement. Along with all the “God hates fags” picketers and the protesters at soldiers’ funerals demonizing them as their friends and family try to mourn the death of their loved one. People have done a number on our culture to give the perception that God is against them, and delights to see them suffer. Why would anyone find a God or any person like that appealing? Every human life is precious, and to praise the coldblooded slaughter of any human being created in the image of God, and to preach that He is up there doing the same is horrendous. With all the Preachers out there that make God out to be a mean, angry, harsh being, it can be hard to have a positive perception of Him. When Christianity first started, there was a lot more unity within the movement. But when anything gets big, there becomes various perceptions and styles within it, and it can be hard to sift through it all. But when Christ becomes something personal and we make it something of our own, it doesn’t matter how ugly someone makes it look, or what anyone tries to say what an ideal Christian looks or acts like. We know how beautiful it is and no one can take that away from us. No matter what the public opinion or perception is of Jesus, it can never be damaged at it’s core, Just you and Him struggling through life together.

Nobody has to do anything the same as anyone else. As a skateboarder, I don’t have to look, act, talk, skate like anyone. It doesn’t matter what Nike says a skateboarder should be like or look like, and no matter where skateboarding goes as a whole, it’s never going to make me stop skateboarding. I have the freedom to find my own style and do whatever I like that is the best reflection of me. In the same way, no matter how hateful or mean people make the Christian God out to be, and make it seem like all Christians have to be like they are, it’s never going to make me turn away from Him. I have my own perception of Jesus and nobody can take that away from me. I know how loving, generous, just, and inclusive He is. It doesn’t have to affect me when someone tells me I need to hate anyone or think less of someone because of their political beliefs, sexual orientation, race, gender, and so on. In whatever we do or are passionate about, there will always be people that make it look like, “only a crazy person would get involved in that.” The people with the most influence, or are the most outrageous, are the ones that will get the most media coverage, thereby creating a public perception of a broad culture based on one group or business. And that can ruin or destroy anyones interest in being a part of it. Every activity or belief system comes with a culture, and if we don’t develop our own way of going about being a part of it, we will be too easily corrupted by the outrageous and the rich and powerful.

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Frustrated Love

Why is skateboarding so frustrating? How often do we see people yelling and throwing their skateboards around at a skate park? I love it, it is my greatest passion, but it also frustrates me to no end. Nothing aggravates me and tests my patience like skateboarding; but at the same time, nothing brings me more joy and is more life giving than skateboarding. skating with friends, pushing myself to new levels, filming and making edits, the energy and hype at the spot when people are landing tricks; there is nothing like it. So why does something I love so much have its moments that make me frustrated and cause me to feel like a maniac? The truth is because I love it, for if I didn’t, it wouldn’t matter to me if I ever landed anything, got any better, or got that clip I have been wanting. Frustration reveals passion and love. My wife and I deal with the same thing with each other. We fight and get flustered with each other more than any other person, and it is because we love each other more than any other person. If I never became frustrated when I skated or with my wife, then that is an indicator that I don’t really care.

God responds in very similar ways with his passion… people. In Jeremiah 31:3 He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” To love anything to that degree means there are going to be times of frustration, and we see this many times in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament when Israel refuses to stop worshipping idols. His people are carving images out of wood and expecting them to care for their well being when God has done so many things to prove to them that He is their God who loves them and takes care of all their needs. He sends prophet after prophet to help them understand the futility of their actions, but nothing seems to get through to them.

Jesus, being the most loving, patient, kind person that ever walked the earth, also had moments of frustration with people. One example is when he walks into the temple, and is grieved that His people have made it into a place of business. He begins overturning tables and whipping people and shouts, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves!” Even the disciples, the people we would say had the most intimate relationship with Him, experienced a frustrated Jesus. In Luke 9:40 a man brings his demon possessed son to Jesus after his disciples failed to cast him out, and Jesus says to them, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” Not what we would expect from the all loving savior of the world. Then there are the Pharisees and the religious leaders that Jesus reserved his strongest frustrations for, calling them names such as: whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, blind guides, and the list goes on. They are often viewed as the people that Jesus was against, due to the fact they were always trying to catch him slipping so they could build a case against Him and have him killed. They were the leaders of the current status quo that Jesus came to challenge, and they hated him for it. They were so entrenched in their ways that they could not see any other perspectives, and were unable to feel compassion for people. They had an appearance of having it all together – saying, doing, and believing all the right things, but it was all a tactic for power and political gain. The strong language that the pharisees received from Jesus is not because He couldn’t stand them and needed to put them in their place, but because He loved them dearly and wanted what was best for them. As we see in Matthew 23:37 when Jesus comes to a viewpoint of the city of Jerusalem and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” All the harshness and name calling came out of a deep love that had become frustrated because he wanted better for them.

I have often wondered after I had a meltdown from skating, “why does skateboarding make me so crazy sometimes?” And the answer is of course, because I love it and it gives me life. Everything we hold with high value, that is life giving to us, makes us a little crazy at times. The frustration is the test that defines how committed we are. Many people get frustrated with their marriages and get divorced, or with skateboarding and quit, or with Jesus and stop believing. The people that are really committed work through the frustrations and allow the passion to grow and take root, to the point where quitting would feel like severing a limb. I heard Eric Koston (a legendary pro skater) say in an interview once, “skateboarding feels so a part of me that for me to quit would be like cutting off my arm.” That is a passion that withstood many tests. As when God says to Israel in the same breath of expressing His frustrations with their idolatry, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands, your walls are ever before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16). No matter how frustrated He gets with us, He is never going to give up on us. That is real love and commitment, one that stands the tests of frustration.

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To Be Free

What does it mean to be free? Something we all crave and long for, but may have never taken the time to ponder what it really means. In Judea Jesus talked a lot about freedom at a time when the nation saw nothing of the sort. During this period the jews were under the brutal rule of the Roman empire where death was no rare occurrence. First century Roman and Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote, “The Romans make a desert and call it peace,” and the Romans inscribed on their coins, “peace through victory.” In other words, the way to bring peace is by killing anyone that opposes us or is a threat in anyway. The Romans never hesitated to kill someone they suspected of being an enemy of the state, and it didn’t matter if they may be innocent or not. If they suspected it, they would just kill them. There was no sense of innocent till proven guilty. So we can imagine the confusion of the people when Jesus said, “Whom the son sets free is free indeed.” How could that be possible under the tyranny of the Roman Empire? The only way the Jews saw any chance of freedom was by overthrowing the Romans and kicking them out of Judea. So when Jesus came talking about freedom without overthrowing the Romans, the Jews would have been left either dumbfounded or outraged.

The show A.D. paints a vivid picture of what life was like in Israel (Judea) around the time of Christ and the years following. In the show, there is a Roman Centurion (what we would refer to as a military Captain) named Cornelius that is responsible for carrying out the ruthless bloodshed of the governor – Pontius Pilate. For most of the show he does so without thinking twice or questioning what he is doing. But towards the end he begins to feel that the people he is being told to kill are being wrongfully put to death, and he starts to feel sorrow, guilt, and shame for all that he is doing. One of the last things he was required to do was to execute a servant girl of the governors house by strangling her because she was caught telling another servant about Christ. Something the Romans viewed as treason because Christians are classified as enemies of the state and a threat to the empire. After he performs the execution he breaks down and begins to weep uncontrollably, for he can’t believe he just had to kill someone that did nothing deserving of death. This empathy that begins to build up inside of him ultimately leads to a meeting with Peter the apostle that becomes his conversion to Christianity; something taken from Acts 10. Then immediately following his conversion he has to go lead an escort of a statue of the Roman Emperor into the Temple of the Jews. Something everyone knows will start a riot and cause lots of blood shed. Once he gets to the temple gate he is met by all the Jewish priests and they refuse to move out of the way and let the Romans through, and they are fully aware that their actions may result in being slaughtered. Peter and the disciples come and stand next to the priests and begin to kneel and pray, the priests soon follow and Cornelius begins to do the same. Soon after this act of prayerful defiance, the Jewish Zealots begin to attack the Romans, resulting in an all out battle. Meanwhile, the priests, disciples, and Cornelius never get off their knees. When the fight is over Cornelius can’t believe he is still alive, and even more so that he never had to draw his sword and kill anyone. For the first time in his life he chose not to kill somebody when his job expected him too. Something that only his now found freedom in Christ could bring him.

So what would freedom be in light of Cornelius? A Roman soldier expected to kill anyone that his superiors told him too, then finally building up the courage to say no after his conscious kept begging him to stop. Before Cornelius had his encounter with Peter and gave his life to Christ, he was stuck in a vicious cycle of doing what he hated, knowing he would feel guilt and shame for it. But after his encounter, he is emboldened to finally stop his killing. First he is forgiven, which liberates him from his shame and guilt, then he is emboldened to “go and sin no more.”

The freedom that Christ brings starts with forgiveness, for without it we wouldn’t know the goodness of God. And in order to feel the weight of forgiveness we have to be aware of our wrongdoing. The beauty in the story of Cornelius, is that we can all imagine the weight of guilt that would come if we had to kill people on a daily basis that we felt did nothing deserving of it. The weight of that would be unbearable, so to hear about a God that forgives sins would be more precious than gold. After we have encountered the forgiveness of God and been liberated, we are inevitably inspired and emboldened to refuse the things we once did. This freedom can be obtained no matter what kind of government or kingdom is ruling over us. Christ forgives and he empowers, and it is what made him so attractive and beautiful in a world where oppressive, violent governments were the norm. It is what allowed Christianity to flourish in spite of the persecution attempts to blot it out. The freedom that Christ brings is an internal one that doesn’t hinge on governments or kingdoms, and is one that no one can take away from us.

We all crave freedom in some way. The problem is we often crave a freedom that is out of our control. The Jews all wanted the Romans out, but it didn’t matter how much they wanted it, it never came. The Jewish-Roman war from 66-70 AD was the result of a Jewish revolutionary effort to end Roman rule in Judea, but ended in the annihilation of the Jewish temple and a Jewish exile that lasted nearly 2,000 years. It wasn’t until 1948 after the Jewish holocaust that they could finally return and call it home. It is fascinating that Christ chose to come into the world at the time and place that he did. A time when Jews were itching for a Messiah to come and restore the strength of Israel and drive out the Romans. But to everyone’s surprise, when the Messiah did come, he came with a message of, “instead of worrying about a freedom that is out of your control, worry about one that is in your control, one that is not contingent on worldly affairs.” It doesn’t matter if we are serving a life sentence behind bars, living in a land of persecution, or in the “freest” of places like America. We all long to be free, to be forgiven for all the hurt we have ever brought into the world, either to ourselves or to others, and to be inspired and emboldened to get out of the vicious cycle of doing things we hate that make us feel guilt and shame. Even America, “the land of the free,” has it’s share of oppression. Think of the stronghold depression, pornography, sexual promiscuity, divorce, political corruption, and many other things has on our culture. Real freedom doesn’t come from man. Only God can truly set someone free, and nothing can ever take that away.

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The Joys of Struggle

What is something that makes you feel like, “if I only had ‘that’ I would be happy?” How often have we felt this desire or drive to obtain things we think will make us happy, but often leave us unfulfilled or unsatisfied once it is “ours.” How do we get ourselves in this vicious cycle? Think about this, a few years ago, Hollywood actress Winona Ryder was caught stealing clothes from a clothing store in downtown Hollywood. Now why would someone who makes millions of dollars a year feel the need to steal? Is she unsatisfied with her millions of dollars? Does she need more money to be happy? What it really comes down to is the age old question, “Is it the journey or the destination?” We think if we are able to obtain enough money that it will eliminate struggle in our lives, and in turn, make us happy, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Why would our hearts be full of wants and desires that we think will make us happy if they don’t? Was God just being cruel when he created us? Is it just a misuse of something good in the human nature? As a skateboarder, imagine if I was so set on learning kickflips, that I got depressed over it and told myself, “if I could just learn kickflips I would be happy.” Then once I learned how to kickflip would I just be satisfied and never need to learn any other trick? of course not. Once I learned kickflips it would be time to start the next struggle of learning another trick. Skateboarding is a serious of struggle and accomplishment, and that’s where the high comes from that makes it so addicting. Without the struggle of trial and error, and constantly failing and picking yourself up and trying again, skateboarding loses all appeal and becomes boring. The joy is in the struggle and the process, not so much in landing tricks. Without the struggle landing tricks wouldn’t be as exhilarating.

There is something about the human condition that craves and thrives in struggle, and when we get to a place where we have no struggle, we often find ourselves grasping for it, often in unhealthy ways because we are unaware of our need for it. When Winona Ryder became a millionaire, the struggle for money and fame was no longer there, so she had to find a new struggle to put herself in (I.E. Stealing clothes). If we think the joy is in the destination, we will always be let down and a little bewildered. If we live our lives thinking that if we could just obtain this one thing, and the struggle will finally be over and will then experience true happiness at last! We will constantly be disappointed. It is just not the way we are wired. To live is to struggle, and it is important to be aware of this so we can create healthy ways of doing so. Otherwise we will always be chasing a new fling, a new job, a higher standard of living, maybe even take up stealing clothes, and nothing will ever feel like enough.

Live in the struggle and learn to thrive in it, don’t seek to eradicate it, for it is essential to growth. In coffee and wine, the plants that are the most stressed and have the most struggle, are the ones that produce the highest quality drinks. The human spirit is no different. Embrace the struggle, it shapes us into much more beautiful people, full of life with a much higher capacity to love.

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Sorrow Turned to Joy

The other day, a couple of friends and I were at a skate park in the rougher part of Sac trying to have a good session and film some tricks as usual. Everyone was pushing each other and rolling away from some crazy tricks, it was a great time. And about half way through the session, this little kid named James (probably around 7 or 8 years old) shows up wearing basketball shoes with a pretty messed up outdated board that looked like it had been passed down like 3 or 4 times over the course of ten plus years, and starts rolling around with us. This kid was just learning how to ride a skateboard and was full of questions, “Hey guys, how do you roll in? How do make the board come off the ground? Are these good wheels to have?” I thought it was pretty cute and humorous. He was just an innocent little kid that was fascinated with skateboarding and wanted to learn everything he could about it and get good at it.

Then all of a sudden 4 kids from the neighborhood show up to the park just to terrorize. They were all elementary school age, and all had that hood mentality of “the quality of a man is determined by how many people you can beat up and how much of a punk you can be.” They were throwing glass into the middle of the park, talking about who they can beat up, and they didn’t want to move when we told them to so we can try our tricks, “because a real man doesn’t let anyone tell them what to do.” It seemed their whole purpose was to wreak havoc on the world. James would let a couple of them ride his board and then all the sudden one of them started punching him for whatever reason we were unaware of, and started throwing rocks at him, which made him cry and leave the park for a while. His dad was in a different part of the park with James’ sister. It was one of the most heart wrenching things I have ever witnessed. James was such a sweet kid that just wanted to skate and love people. Luckily we were able to chase the hoodlums off the park, and shortly after James came back and started skating around again. As I was sitting there watching him cruise around the park on this beat up old board having the time of his life. I thought to myself, “man I have to try and do something for this kid to make up for the agony he just had to endure.” Then it occurred to me that I had a complete board in the trunk of my car that was still in pretty good shape (a lot better shape than that ragged thing he was riding). So I went and got it and asked him to try it out and tell me what he thought of it. After he took a lap around the park, he comes to me and says, “wow, its so good!” I told him, “rad, you can have it.” As soon as he heard that his face was filled with disbelief and says to me, “no way! are you serious? I’m not letting anyone ride this one, I’m gonna make sure I take good care of it.” And the rest of the time he was there he was just glowing. It was one of the greatest moments I have ever experienced at a skate park. Just seeing how his worst day at a skate park turned into his best day. Because he endured a momentary affliction, he was blessed with something that would last him a long time.

As I meditated on this moment, it occurred to me that sometimes in life we go through hard, difficult times, and we may ask ourselves, “how can this be happening to me?” But as I witnessed with James, blessing often comes that turns the sorrow into joy. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Life is full of glimpses of this reality. As we saw with James, his agony lasted but a moment, but the joy that followed will last so much longer that it utterly fails in comparison. C.S. Lewis says in his book, The Great Divorce, “They say of some temporal suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory… And that is why…the Blessed will say ‘We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.'” This essentially sums up this story, God redeems our sufferings and turns them into a glory. The beauty of knowing God is that even though we suffer and have to go through difficult times, the reality of heaven is that it works backwards and turns those into joys.

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