This last Saturday, our Italian partners, working together as one organization called Missione Agape, coming together from nine different churches, opened a new Community Center that will be available to people from the immediate community, children, immigrants, and many others. We have worked to try to help make it a reality and are proud and excited for the work that they have done. We are looking forward to seeing how this new facility can be used for great connection and training.
On Saturday, our partners held a morning ceremony for the public, media, and politicians, while then also having separate opening ceremonies in the evening for the people of the churches represented within Missione Agape. Here are a few pictures from the day:
Front of the building from the street. The center is walled from the outside with a small parking area in the front.
Large meeting (and eating!) room in the lower section of the building.
First large activity room upstairs
Second large activity room upstairs
Walking and talking flower garden path behind the center
Basketball / volleyball / soccer court
Community garden area
New bathrooms and showers
There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is a start and there are new activities that we will be starting here very soon. Looking forward to reporting more on how God will use this new Center!
God, as our Heavenly Father, has a heart that loves and beats for each of us. From the day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, he has been working to provide us redemption and bring us back to himself. God is, himself, our redeemer.
God plan culminated in Jesus, who was sent to earth to announce and demonstrate a new kingdom that would be placed here on the earth. It is God’s kingdom. By coming to earth, Jesus established God’s kingdom and then took on the burden of providing for us by being a sacrifice for us for our sins. Before Abraham sacrificed the ram instead of his son Isaac, Abraham told Isaac that God will provide the sacrifice. In the same way, God provided Jesus, the visible form of God himself as the sacrifice for our sins.
So by coming to earth and dwelling with us, and then becoming the sacrifice for our sins, Jesus established the kingdom of God here on earth. This kingdom isn’t a geographical location or a political nation like a kingdom built by men. Instead, it is a group of people who look to God as the king and ruler of their lives. They willingly give their allegiance and obedience to God, receiving Jesus’s sacrifice in faith for the forgiveness of their sins, and live their lives as ambassadors of this kingdom for the purpose of seeing others become subjects to that same kingdom.
As Jesus was teaching the people, he spoke to them about how they should pray. He told them:
“This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus goes on with his teaching of prayer, but it is an astonishing start because it lays the groundwork for how God thinks about people. Here are the parts of the prayer that I find so amazing:
God is our Father. He is in heaven, not here on earth, but he is our Father.
He says that we should both recognize and call out the holiness of God in worship.
We should pray for real change. God has a kingdom and we should pray for it to come and spread out across the earth.
And how will we know that the kingdom has come? When God’s will is done here on earth in the same way that it is here in heaven.
What would that look like, that God’s will is done here on earth, just as it is in heaven? What would be different? What would be different in my own life? What would be different in the world that I live in every day? What would the TV news look like if God’s will were done here on earth just as it is in heaven? Wow, what an amazing change that would be!
This is the first thing that Jesus teaches when he teaches us to pray. God himself is on a mission to see his kingdom, consisting of his rule and reign, done here on earth, and so I believe that we can say that this is foundational in understanding the Father’s heart for his people.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to give a short Christmas devotional talk at a center for refugees near where we live. I accepted and decided to keep it simple and just tell the Creation to Christ story as a way to explain why it is important that Jesus came to earth, and therefore why celebrating Christmas is so important. You can see that story here:
As I was coming to the end, because I was speaking as a guest, I thought I would just end the talk, pray, and be finished for the day. However, at the end, another friend of mine who had come with me that day spoke up and suggested that we should take questions as we had both Christians and Muslims with us and some people may wonder about parts of the story.
The first question that came up was what Adam’s sin has to do with my sin. It is the first part of the story in the Creation to Christ story, so this man wondered why it mattered that Adam’s is part of the story.
The discussion that ensued, and even continued in a subsequent visit to the center yesterday, left me thinking about the precision of what the Bible says and what I understand and believe related to that very question. What does Adam’s sin have to do with me?
At the time, I answered the question this way:
Obviously, Adam’s sin of eating the fruit from a tree in a garden is not my sin.
But in the same way that Adam made a decision to walk away from God and do his own thing, aside from what God want me to do, I do the same. I disobey God on a regular basis, choosing my own way instead of God’s way.
Regardless of how you think about the nature of Adam’s sin and its connection to us today, the effect is the same. God cannot abide with sin. This is why Adam and Eve were punished and needed to be sent out of the garden, and this is the same reason that our sins are also punished and we are separated from God because of our sins.
There was a subsequent conversation about how the curse that God placed on Adam and Eve affects us to this day, and in later reports that I heard yesterday, it sounds like this was understood better, especially by some of the Muslim friends that were there that day, but the more that I’ve been thinking about this, the more that I’m wondering if this curse that God placed on Adam and Eve actually is directly related to the nature of our sin or not.
So, this post should probably be a really long one, primarily intended to help me think through my own understanding about how Adam’s sin relates to me today. But I think that I am going to need to break this up into at least two posts, possibly more. Also, I want to say that I think that #3 above remains true regardless of the outcome and whether or not you agree with any of the conclusions that I might come to here. In the end, I think that most of this may be academic because the result is ultimately the same. Whether my sin is based on something that I inherited from a curse and it was not theoretically possible for me to live a perfect life as Jesus did, or whether it is just the nature of being a human and like Adam I make my own decisions and willingly rebel against God through my sin, I have still sinned and still need forgiveness and mercy from God!
My primary question at this point is whether or not the curse from God is the reason that I am considered a sinner before God. When God administered punishment to Adam and Eve, he said to them:
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
So, I think that if you believe that our sin today is a result of the curse from God, I think that this is the nature of where that would come from since this is the curse that God pronounced. But the difficulty that I have here is that I don’t see something here that is related to sin coming from Adam, at least here in the pronouncement of the curse. I see pain, authority, work, sweat, and death as the result of the curse, but I don’t see a pronouncement of guilt for all humans, at least not here.
As a result, at least from what I see here, I’m not sure that it is right to say that we live under a curse from God. So far, that idea doesn’t really make sense to me. I will pick up on some other scriptures soon, though, that I think should help fill this out further.
I recently read the story of Abraham’s sacrifice with a friend of mine. I think he liked the story, but the main question that he asked was if it was possible to read the story and understand more about Ishmael and Isaac, Abraham’s sons. He wondered this because his faith traces it’s lineage back to Ishmael and he had always heard that Abraham went to sacrifice Ishmael, not Isaac. He also saw that Genesis recorded the story by saying that Isaac was Abraham’s only son, so he was confused by what that meant.
Yesterday, we read those stories together, reading about the birth of Ishmael, the blessing and covenant plans from God, and the birth of Isaac. My friend was clearly trying to understand everything and its meaning, but as we talked through the story, he was clearly enjoying learning the foundations and having a better understanding. We decided that the primary difference between Ishmael and Isaac, in terms of their standing before God, is the covenant that God made with Isaac. So we decided that our next step is to understand what this meant and the implications of this covenant.
In preparation for our time together, I did some additional reading and came across a very interesting post at p2alm.com where they quote from a man named Joel Richardson. You can read the entirety of the post, but here is my favorite part, which attempts to help provide intellectual, spiritual, and emotional context for the origins of Islam:
So we read these things and they’re interesting Bible stories but what I’m asking you to do is to put yourself in the position and recognize the fact that in history, in real time, this was a real boy… with real emotions, with a real life. This happened to a little kid named Ishmael. And so what we need to understand is you have this little boy and… he had a dad. He had a mother. He had a family. He had a life. He had an inheritance. And in one day he loses all of these things. He loses his dad. He loses his inheritance. He’s out in the desert. He’s on his own.
The post continues by saying that the effects of Ishmael being sent away by Abraham, by his father, have trickled down to others. The eventual nature of the relationship that Ishmael had with his father Abraham was seemingly transferred to the way that he saw God. And even with people I meet today from a Muslim background seem to consider God as far away and somewhat aloof, uncaring for the specifics of an individual’s life. We can imagine that this is how Ishmael may have felt about Abraham, and it is possible that those emotions could then be transferred onto how he may have felt about God.
There are certainly many interesting implications and lessons to be learned here. The article referenced above, of course, talks about this situation between Ishmael and Isaac as the root of the Middle Eastern conflict that we see today, so that is certainly one very large implication.
But if this analysis is true, there are also very real implications for us as fathers to consider as well. As a father to my children, I can have a very real effect on how my kids view God. Will they see God as an authoritarian? As aloof and uncaring? As someone who rejects them? Or could I influence them to see God rightly, as a loving Father who loves his children, who judges rightly but also extends mercy. What a big responsibility that fathers carry if this is true!
God, I pray that you will help me to learn the lesson from this story and not repeat the mistakes that have been made, mistakes that may have started some of the greatest conflicts in history. God, help me to love my children and be a blessing to each of them, encouraging them to go on and bless many others. God, despite our backgrounds and how our fathers may have succeeded or failed, I pray that both my children and friends will know you as a loving Father who wants what is best for his children. God, please help us as we try to hear from you and follow you.
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
I picked this scripture today out of the totality of the passages I was reading because it describes the very first interaction that we see between God and man. Here are a few things that I notice from this passage:
God has created mankind from his own image. How incredible is that?! I see here that there is an immediate connection that God creates to man, presumably so that man will recognize God as God, precisely because man is made in the image of God.
God created male and female. Beyond the connection between God and mankind, I see that God builds another partnership connection directly into mankind by creating man and woman who need each other.
They are blessed and immediately given a mission to be fruitful and increase in number across the face of the earth.
They are also intended to both rule over the animals of the earth and, along with the animals, to eat each of the plants that God made for food.
As I look at this, I think the biggest part that stands out to me is how God created mankind in his own image. I’m not sure what could be more telling of God’s intention. He must want people to know him and to show him to others! Why else would he make people in his own image?
I did a little looking around at some articles and videos online to help further the explanation of God making man in his own image and there are several good resources out there, including some videos from some of my favorites like John Piper and N.T. Wright, but I also found this animated video from The Bible Project that I thought was good at also explaining how people being made in the image of God also points to Jesus. I think it is worth a couple of minutes to watch, so you can see it here:
The conclusion of the video actually gets to the outcome and application of what I am thinking about relative to these verses today. God has made me in his image, which is an incredible thing, but I am good at messing it up and walking away from God on a regular basis, disobeying him on a regular basis. My desire is to bear the image of God as a king and a ruler in the way that God originally designed. As the video shows, though, I have to restore my life as a servant and in submission to God, following Jesus’s example and allowing God’s Spirit to work through me.
Yesterday, some friends of mine visited here at our home. They were asking how we would characterize 2017 and what our hopes were for 2018. In continuing to think about this, I think my hope is simple. To allow God’s Spirit to dwell in me and to follow Jesus. This doesn’t come easily and requires some work and discipline in the reading of scripture, being still and listening to God, and then walking out what he is teaching me on a daily basis, but in the times that I have experienced this, I have known that it is worth it. There are radical implications for living as an image bearer of God, but it is exactly what God made me to be.
God, will you help me to live according to your Word. I ask that you help me to understand the story that you are telling and to follow you. Spirit of God, will you work deeply inside of me, removing everything that has been placed there that is not originally from you, cleansing all of those things that are unclean through the blood of Jesus. God, I pray that you will lead me and those around me to rule as you have designed. Thank you Father for the life that you have given me and I pray that many others will understand and follow this life as well!
A couple of weeks ago, I had someone ask me this question. He is a pretty new believer and has been surprised that there are scriptures that record that Jesus, for example, commanded us to go and make disciples. He was saying that it seemed to him that Jesus is trying to tell him that he needs to not work, but instead focus his time solely on making disciples. So his question to me ultimately was, “What does Jesus want from me?”
I told him that I would be happy to show him, but I wasn’t sure, based on his question, that he would like the answer. We read a very short parable, which were part of a longer set of parables:
“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 and sold all he had and bought that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
I simply asked his question back to him: “What does Jesus want from you?” At first, he didn’t quite understand what I meant, which I thought was a little surprising, so we went through it one step at a time.
So what is the ultimate answer? I think Jesus teaches here that the answer is everything. Jesus expects us to give up everything to follow him.
So his next question was similar to the first: So what does that mean? I need to sell everything I own, and then I will be following Jesus? (…to be clear, he doesn’t own much!) I simply told him that I can’t answer that question for him. Instead, he needs to ask God what it means for him. Maybe for some people it does mean that they literally need to sell everything because those things are what stand between them and God. But for him, it may be something else. Maybe for him it is the singular desire to just have a job. Does that stand between he and God and obstruct his relationship? Possibly.
A little later, Jesus taught his disciples that if they want to be his disciple, they must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow him. Obviously, this is no small statement. The cross was, and continues to be, a symbol of torture and death. Quite possibly one of the least humane and most excruciating ways to die that men have ever come up with. And yet Jesus says that we need to willingly grab onto it if we want to be his disciple. In fact, he goes on to say that if we want to save our life, we have to willingly give it up. All of the things that I want to do, that I want to accomplish, to have in this life – these are the things that I think Jesus is saying that he wants us to give up so that we can have a life in him, so that we can have a life that follows him.
I like that my friend is asking these kinds of questions. It suggests to me that God is speaking to him through his Spirit. My guess is that my friend actually knows the answer of how to apply it to his life. I’m guessing he knows what it means to sell everything to have the treasure of the Kingdom. Of course, the choice now is whether or not to do it, the same choice that each of us have as well.
It is great to be able to look back on a situation and see what God was doing. I have told the story to several people that, when we started our adoption processes with our two girls, I believe that God was both blessing Gina and myself and completing our family, as well as introducing us to the rest of the world. We grew up in rural Indiana in a time and place where there was very little diversity, and I knew very few people who didn’t look like me or came from the same background and culture as me. Because I had, at that time, little exposure to other cultures, it was difficult to have an appreciation for the rest of the world, let alone have an appreciation for what God is trying to do among all of the peoples of the world.
In October 2006, Gina and I traveled to China to complete the adoption of our second daughter, and then again in March 2010, we traveled to Ethiopia for our third daughter. God was doing amazing things in our family, but I believe he was also preparing us for the future as well. I had traveled to Mexico and Canada and all over the US, but those trips to the Far East and to Africa were the start of a journey that, I believe, ultimately led us to Italy where we now work to bless Italians as well people from across Africa, the Middle East, and any number of other places across the face of the earth who are congregating or passing through this place. I think that, in our lives, God was planning ahead to accomplish his plans and goals, not only for that time, but also for the future.
In chapter 9 of the book of Isaiah, there is a great prophecy for the future that is frequently read around Christmas time. It is this:
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Keep in mind that this is written approximately 700 years before the birth of Jesus. God is putting his plan in place well in advance to give a child to the world. He will have an amazing royal heritage, both from God and from man and will be the One who will reunite God and man again, a bond that was broken all of the way back from first sin of Adam and Eve. This sin that broke the relationship has laid a burden on all of us. It is the same type of sin and rebellion against God that we continue even today.
But now, the people have seen a great light. God has lifted the burden that was placed on us. God has given us a great joy, and this is what we celebrate when we celebrate Christmas. We can see that God was planning ahead, hundreds of years before Jesus entered the world, and he brings an incredible promise, to redeem people back to God.
Yesterday afternoon, I met with some friends to read and discuss the story of the Passover. In this story, God commanded Moses to tell Pharaoh to let his people go. The Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and Pharaoh had hardened his heart against God and against Moses, despite the fact that God had brought several plagues upon Egypt due to Pharaoh’s disobedience. Now, God would deliver the final blow of justice against Pharaoh’s disobedience, showing Pharaoh once and for all that he is the all-powerful God whose commands would not be denied.
As I thinking about the story, I decided for myself that there are two significant components to this section of the story.
The first is the most obvious part. God was about to hand out the judgment to the Egyptians. They would not have the blood of the lamb on their doorways, so the Destroyer would enter and kill the first-borns in each of the Egyptian households. It is a terrible and powerful justice that was about to take place.
But the second part is actually the part that makes this section of the scripture more challenging to read. This section of the story of Moses is set within the Israelite camp, just before the night of the Passover is about to happen. God is giving instructions to Moses and Aaron about what they should do and is, in this very moment, creating a festival that is meant to be used to remember this night for thousands and thousands of years, for many generations to come.
Maybe I’m the only one, but doesn’t it seem strange to command the creation of a festival in the time with many people are about to be killed?
But yet, this is exactly what God does. He is about to display his power in a very public way and he wants this story to be told and remembered for generation after generation so that the people will remember that their God is both powerful, but also willing and able to save them.
This morning, I read again in the book of Joshua how Joshua commanded the Israelites to take one stone for each tribe from the middle of the Jordan river to commemorate what God has done. In this case, following the Exodus, the Israelites have been circling in the desert for 40 years and will now, finally, go into the Promised Land by crossing the Jordan river. God dries up the river so that they can cross and he wants them to understand and remember that it is by God’s power that they are crossing. God himself is the one who has not only saved them, but is also now marching them forward into the place that he wants them to go.
So why all of this remembering? Why does God put such a priority on his people remembering who he is and what he has done?
I don’t know the answer with certainty, but my best guess is that, through remembering, we can both maintain and increase our faith. The scriptures say that it was Noah’s faith that saved him. It was Abraham’s faith that allowed him to believe God’s promise and receive the inheritance that God would give him. And many others…Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and more!
So it is also faith that saves us. Our faith is in the sacrifice of Jesus, that it will save each of us, and so it is important to remember what God has done.
Each year, we celebrate holidays like Christmas and Easter. Those are celebrations that are intended to help us remember very significant events. The birth of Jesus and the death and resurrection of Jesus are crucial to our faith.
God also does many things in our individual lives as well. God didn’t just work centuries ago; he is also working now. God is working in powerful ways even now as we pray and he acts in our lives. These are the things that I also want to remember. I want to recall the things that God does directly in my life and put memorials in my life that will allow me to remember what God has done. In this way, my faith can, and will, increase. I can see God at work, and even in my most difficult periods of life, I can have faith that God is working, even when I cannot immediately see him.
For many years, really until just recently, I have never really quite understood what Jesus meant when he said that he came to fulfill the law. Toward the beginning of the sermon on the mount, here is what he said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I just couldn’t put this together in my mind. How is it possible to fulfill the law? What is there to be fulfilled, and what does that even mean?
Recently, I read this scripture with some people that had just begun to follow Jesus. As we were reading it, this question occurred to me:
What is the law actually governing? It is our actions. The law can only really speak to a specific action. For example, we shouldn’t murder, steal, or lie. But those are really just the end result, really the final step in a process that happens from the inside out. First, maybe we have an experience or have something happen to us and that colors the way that we think about an individual, a group of people, or something. As we continue to think about that situation, the resulting feeling grows within us, either positively or negatively. And if that feeling grows enough, we may decide to take action upon it in some way, either positively or negatively.
So the law, whether the law from God or the laws that our governments create, are really just addressing the final step, the resulting action of the what we have been thinking about or mulling over in our hearts for some time.
But Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law. How can that be the case? I think that Jesus means that he wants to work on the first steps, the issues that are stirring in your heart before you ever act. He wants to cleanse your heart from the sin that is found there so that the law never needs to be invoked. I think Jesus is saying that if you allow him to work on your heart, you will never even have a need for the law because you won’t break the law as you haven’t even considered the action that the law is addressing and telling you not to do.
Jesus goes on within the sermon on the mount to talk about murder, adultery, divorce, and other types of sins. In reading what he was saying, I actually think that many of these are actually examples of what he was saying about fulfilling the law. For example, Jesus first talks about murder and says:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Jesus then goes on to say that we need to reconcile with others, seeming to say that we need to forgive, and to be forgiven.
Of course, this is a great example because people do not murder others for no reason. If I murder someone, it is because I have built up terrible thoughts and feelings for that other person in my heart. There have likely been several situations and interactions with that other person that have deeply hurt, wounded, or offended me. I have probably thought pretty badly about this other person for quite a while and I certainly haven’t forgiven them. It is probably likely that I haven’t sincerely tried to reconcile with this other person.
So how does Jesus fulfill the law in this case?
Jesus is not trying to just change your action and tell you not to murder another person. That has already been said. Instead, Jesus wants to work much more deeply inside of us. He is working on our hearts. Jesus knows that if he can change your heart, the law becomes unnecessary. In this example, if you don’t think badly of another person, or if you are able to reconcile with that other person, then there is no need to tell someone not to murder because you won’t act upon hurting someone who you have a good relationship with.
So what is the lesson that we can learn from this? How do we apply this to our individual lives?
I think the firsst step is to ask ourselves, “What are the areas in our lives where we repeatedly sin against God? What are the things that we do that we know do not please God?”
When we recognize that we have done something wrong, something that does not please God, we are really just recognizing that we have broken the law. But how can we not only not break the law, but work with Jesus to fulfill it?
The next step is to ask the question, Why? Why am I doing this thing? What is it within my heart that makes me want to do this and disobey God? To have pleasure? To avoid pain? To have something more in our lives such as money, fame, or power? Once we recognize the answer to the question of why we do this, that is actually the part that you want to change.
I have a friend named Tony Ingrassia who taught me something several years ago that I think is applicable in this case. Tony leads a ministry called Power of Purity where he works to address sexual addiction problems, primarily in men, but in women as well. When I was living in the same city as him and helping him, I heard Tony frequently say:
Fruit comes from roots.
What does that mean? Tony uses a metaphor of a tree that is producing a certain kind of fruit. From the outside, what we think of the tree is based on the fruit that it is producing. For example, if an apple tree produces great, juicy apples, then we think it is a healthy tree, but if it is producing bad apples, then we would say that the tree is not yet mature and healthy.
But the story starts much deeper than the fruit. The roots are where the story of that tree begins. The soil, the water, the nutrients that the tree is absorbing through the roots are what is actually determining how healthy the tree is and how good the fruit will ultimately be.
If I apply this to the idea of fulfilling the law, I think that the law would only be addressing the quality of the fruit. But that is only the top level, the surface. It is addressing the outcome, not the actual underlying reason for the action.
The fulfillment of the law addresses the type of soil for the roots, how much water they are getting, etc. The roots are like our hearts, the place where the real work needs to be done, and this is the place that only Jesus can go to address the sin, the pain, and the problems that will eventually come out as the fruit, or your actions, that the law is intended to govern. As a result, we must allow Jesus to work in the depths of our hearts, to cleanse those places, and in that way, the law will be fulfilled within us, just as Jesus said and promised that he would do.
I have had a couple of situations recently where people have told me that the scriptures have been changed and corrupted, so therefore they shouldn’t be read or discussed. In both cases, I simply told them that it seems as if they are the ones making the decision about what is true about God and what is not. In one of the cases so far, the other person came back to me to apologize and say that he did not want to be the one to make that statement. In the other case, we have yet to see.
Honestly, there is a part of me that reacts emotionally about these discussions. Essentially, they are saying that I am choosing to believe something that is corrupt and wrong, and they say these things without evidence or, in my opinion, much intellectual thought. But of course, I have to remember that it is God who changes hearts, not me. I actually have little to do with what another person believes. If we read a scripture, other people can decide to believe what they are reading or not. And I think an indicator of whether they believe it or not is whether they are willing to discuss it, not argue or debate about it.
I think that there is something that Jesus said that is very applicable in this case. He said:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
That is a lesson that I think that I need to continue to learn. I think that Christians often assume that people are automatically going to be drawn to Jesus, but I’m not sure that is true based on what Jesus is saying here. In fact, he seems to be saying the opposite, that they will only come to him, Jesus, if the Father is drawing them.
Of course, how do we know if the Father is drawing them to Jesus? We don’t! We only know that we are to be obedient to God and the teachings of Jesus, and if we have done those things, then we have done our job. The rest of the job is up to God.
So I’ve been thinking for the last few days about how to respond to this situation where people are saying that the scriptures are corrupted. I’ve thought about doing an in-depth discussion and writing a lot about it here in public, looking at where these people are wrong, but I think I’ve settled on a much simpler answer. I can’t change people’s hearts and minds. My arguments will never be good enough to convince other people, especially online. Only God can change someone’s heart and open them to the truth, and he is only doing that if he is in the process of drawing them to Jesus.
So, I think I need to simply look for those that God is drawing to Jesus and stay focused on those people. I can’t change others and try to get them to do anything. It truly requires that God changes their hearts so that they will be drawn to Jesus. I have to pray and ask God to change their minds, and more importantly, their hearts.
This is something I saw happen recently. At one point, the person that I was talking with truly had a hard heart and wanted nothing to do with Jesus or any scripture or teaching about him. But this person also knew that they were not acting in the way that they should to actually be considered righteous before God. And it was in this person that we amazingly saw the scripture in Ezekiel played out in real life:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
I pray that God will do this with each of us every day. God, will you remove those areas in my heart that are made of stone and replace it with flesh, a place that is soft and pliable and open to your teaching. God, help each of us to be ready to hear your word and draw us toward Jesus!