Friday, July 31, 2009

Yesterday my family and I took a trip to Mt. Rainier. We recently moved to Washington, and I was expecting the mountain to be beautiful close up, and it was. Just take a look at the pictures! But it was more than beautiful and magnificent. Reaching the 6000 ft. elevation point and seeing the glacier-capped mountain come into view was an out-of-this-world experience. Almost unreal. Like another dimension of reality.

I'm sure for those who live or work there, it's become commonplace. It's not new like it was for me. It has become their daily reality. They are constantly surrounded by the beauty and take-your-breath-away views. They hike the trails, drive the roads, see people come and go; It's their life. And hopefully, it doesn't become so familiar that they forget how truly wonderful it all is.

Spiritually-speaking, this happened to me once upon a time. I grew up believing that I was loved by God, and it was a wonderful reality. I'm not sure when that began to change exactly, but it did. Instead of believing I was loved unconditionally, it became conditional. It was as if I was living on a beautiful mountain for many years, never knowing any different, and then someone came along and told me, 'You can't just stay here for free. You have to earn the right to live up here.' I desperately wanted to hang on to His love, so I did whatever I thought I had to do to be worthy of it: Being good; Making the right choices; Doing things to earn God's favor. It was a slow digression, but by the time I began to realize how far I had slipped from a belief in His unconditional love, I was fully immersed in duty, guilt, pride, fear, self-righteousness, and misery.

I felt worthless to God. I was constantly swimming upstream. I was never good enough. I was always falling short of what I thought I should be. But I didn't want to turn my back on Him and run away, so I kept trudging forward, trying to reach the top of the mountain again, but I never got any closer. I remained in the valley of 'He loves me if...'

To make a long story short, God woke me up to the fact I was living that way, and I knew I needed to stop. His love for me was not conditional. He didn't love me more because of all the things I was doing right, and He didn't love me less because of all the ways I was falling short. I didn't have anything to do with how He felt about me. That was all on Him, and God is love.

He loves me. Period. Not if... not when... not because... He just does, and there's nothing I can do either way to change it. I am loved. That is my reality. And it's magnificent, like living on that beautiful mountain and getting to be there every day. Not once in awhile. Not when I reach the summit after a long climb. No. I wake up there, and I don't leave.

It's amazing how much doesn't matter when I truly believe that. It's like living in another dimension. It moves me from the valley of fear, uncertainty, and trying to measure-up, to the high places of grace, hope, and peace where living-loved is the only rule. That's my reality, and there's plenty of room in God's Heart for you too. We are His children. We are His treasure. We are His delight.

Are you living loved today?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The young man said to Him, "All these (commandments) I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"

Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Matthew 19:20-22 (NKJV)

The gospels are full of stories. Some were parables that Jesus used to teach spiritual truths. Others were real life stories of people who chose to follow Jesus, or to reject Him.

Of those who chose to follow Jesus, most people had a specific reason for doing so--a catalyst that made them take that initial step. Some followed because they witnessed great miracles, like when some of the Disciples saw Jesus give them such a great catch of fish that their nets began breaking. Others followed because Jesus healed them from illness, rescued them from demon possession, gave them sight or ears that could hear or restored legs that could walk. And still others followed because they experienced great forgiveness that they knew they didn’t deserve.

People followed Jesus because they had a reason to. It wasn’t just a new religion to them, it was personal. They were “touched” by Jesus.

One day a young man came to Jesus. He was rich. He was good. He (I think) wanted to follow Jesus, but he was looking for a reason to. What did Jesus have to offer him? He wasn’t sick. He wasn’t in need of great forgiveness. He had no physical or material needs.

And yet something was missing. He could feel it. He asks Jesus, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” I’m not sure he knew what he was asking for exactly. Maybe he was talking about living forever with God in the afterlife, or maybe he was saying, “I know there has to be more to life than this, but what is it, and how do I get it?”

Jesus responds by telling him to follow the Commandments, which this young man has done. “What do I still lack?” he asks. Notice that he doesn’t say, ‘I guess that’s it then. I’m good. Thanks, Jesus. I feel better now.’ No, he knew there was more.

Jesus tells him to go sell his possessions and give the money to the poor and to follow Him, but the man rejects this idea and walks away, feeling sorrowful.

What reason does Jesus give the man for doing such a radical thing? Just one. “You will have treasure in heaven.” I don’t think the young man realized it, or he wouldn’t have walked away, but this “treasure” Jesus was talking about was what the young man lacked. He didn’t have it, and he wanted it, but he didn’t see its value.

In Matthew, Chapter 13, Jesus tells many parables in an attempt to explain “the kingdom of heaven.” It seems that no one comparison can adequately explain it, so He gives many, but one of them would have resonated with this young man better than the others.

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went out and sold all he had and bought that field.”

Jesus wasn’t asking this man to give up everything to be left with nothing. He was asking him to exchange what he had for something better. For something that was priceless. For the one thing he still lacked. The man didn’t see it that way and went away, how? Sorrowful. Sad. Full of grief and despair. What did he lack? Joy. He had everything else, but he wasn’t happy, and he knew it. He was looking for the joy.

What reason do you have for following Jesus? You may have a few, or you may have many. But is joy one of them? Do you enjoy it? Is it thrilling and delightful? Incomparable to anything else? In a good way?

I encourage you to spend some time thinking about that. If following Jesus isn’t something you find joyful, why is that? What are you missing? What would Jesus tell you to exchange for the greatest treasure of all?

Maybe it’s money. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s fear. Maybe it’s busyness or perfectionism. Maybe it’s the expectations of others. Maybe it’s religion. Maybe it’s a lack of belief in God’s unconditional love for you.

Maybe you can pinpoint it right away, or maybe you need to ask Jesus to show you what it is. Maybe it’s one thing, or maybe the causes are many. It might be a quick-fix, or it might be a long journey, but either way, whatever you need to do to find the joy--it’s worth it.

For where joy is, there is life. There is God. There is truth. There is perfection. A treasure not of this world, but a heavenly one. And not just for someday; but for today, tomorrow, and always.