What Does Jesus Want From Me?


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.

Matthew 13:44-46

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.


God is Planning Ahead for Redemption


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.


God wants us to remember


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.


How did Jesus fulfill the law?


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.”

Matthew 5:17-20

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.”

Matthew 5:21-22

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.


God is the One Who Changes Hearts


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.

John 6:44
Read the whole passage for context

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.

Ezekiel 36:26

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!


Obeying Jesus’s Commands – Do Not Lust


One of the most powerful forces that we can experience is our sexuality.  When God told us to be fruitful and multiply across the face of the earth, He certainly gave us the capability to do that and the desire to take the sexual actions required to make that work!

But like many things, we are good at going too far, pushing the gift that God gave us beyond the bounds that God intended.  His desire was that we would use the gifts that we have to love and give good gifts, spreading the good news of the Kingdom of God wherever we go.  Through the temptations that we have, though, we twist those gifts into things that harm us and harm others.

Jesus knows this.  He has seen it, having witnessed it for centuries.  He knows that we might be able to follow the letter of the law that God gave, but certainly not its spirit.  And that is what we see happening as Jesus tells the people that, while they may keep the law to not commit adultery by having sex with another person while married, they don’t keep the spirit of the law which is to completely love your spouse with your whole self, with everything that we are, not having any desire for another woman or another man because you have found your fulfillment in the person that you have married, that God has given to you.

And so I think that is why Jesus tells the people that, even if they look lustfully at someone who is not their spouse (in this specific case, speaking directly to men since he says “another woman”), we commit adultery in our hearts and minds, even if we don’t commit adultery with our bodies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 5:27-30

Jesus’s remedy for this type of lust certainly seems pretty extreme, but I suppose that if you understand how bad hell is, which I presume Jesus would, then I think that it becomes easier to tell someone to lose a part of their body instead of sending all of it to hell.

May we become people that follow Jesus in a way that will please God, not only obeying the letter of the law, but its spirit as well, following God with both our bodies as well as our hearts and minds.


Becoming Children of God


A friend of mine recently told me that he had a conversation with someone online who told him that it was possible to become a child of God.  He was very interested in this idea and asked me what I thought about it.  I explained that, with the girls that we had adopted, I felt that we had just a little bit of understanding of how God brings us into his family.

Since that conversation, he and some of his friends moved to a new place to live, so my wife and I went to visit and I took a few thoughts along with me to share about this idea of being children of God.

The first of those thoughts comes from John 1 where John says this about Jesus:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

John 1:9-13

John starts out by stating that the created didn’t recognize its own Creator.  The one who made everything, who even came in the form of a human being to help us understand Him better, wouldn’t be understood by us.  We wouldn’t receive him and accept him for who he was and is.

But there were a small number of people who did see, understand, and believed, and it was those people who are children of God.

I think my friend thought that we meant this in some physical way.  That somehow we were saying that God was a physical father.  But of course that isn’t what John is saying here.  We are all simply everyday humans.  We all walk around and do normal things just as anyone else would.

The difference is that we see who Jesus is.  We commit our lives to him, and we follow.  We do our best to love him and obey him.  And because we do this, because we put our faith in him, God gives us a spiritually legal right to be called His children.  We are spiritually adopted and brought into God’s family with all of the rights of a child to a Father.



Wind and Waves

Boat with 125 Syrian refugees arrives in Italy

I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized how much of a personal connection that this story would have for my friends.

This particular week, we were reading in Mark 4 where Jesus and his disciples, who had already been standing in a boat to teach all of the people that had gathered around, had decided to leave the crowds and go to the other side of the lake.  Jesus had been tired, so he had gone to sleep, but as they were sailing, a storm came up and the water started to quickly come into the boat as the waves crashed over the side.  Not knowing what to do, the disciples woke Jesus up, thinking that he was aloof to their situation.  Jesus wakes up, tells the storm and the seas to be calm, and it happens!  Of course, the disciples are amazed, even terrified, and they ask each other who this is that even the wind and waves obey him?

As we were discussing this story, one of my friends explained that this was similar to what had happened as their boat had set out onto the sea from the coast of Libya.  He said that they were in a small boat, but that the traffickers had packed 150 people onto it.  They had been out to sea for two days when a storm had come up.  The people were already weak after their time in the boat, but through the night as the storm battered and tossed their little boat, they lost more than half of the people who had been journeying with them.  They all thought that they were going to die and everyone was calling out to God that He would save them.

The storm finally calmed, but it left their boat broken and their spirits depleted as they had lost one person after the next.  Their supplies were gone and they remained at sea for another two days without food or water, something they had already been rationing among themselves, even before the storm.  Now they were drifting and people were dying around them.  In all, when they were finally rescued, only 15 people remained alive in the boat.

There were no words that I could use to adequately respond to this story.  How can we even begin to understand seeing 90% of the people that you have started a journey with die before your eyes?  The only thing that I could manage to say is that God must have a plan for their lives.

This is what we believe and are hoping for.  I can’t explain why all of those people in the boat would lose their lives, but our hope is that God will use these remaining friends of ours to bring hope and blessing, with lives that fully follow Jesus, to make God known to people here and across the face of the earth.  God has brought them to this place, has blessed them and spared their lives, and now has a plan to use them just as He has used us, and in even greater ways.  May God make it so, and soon!


Getting things done in Catania

A balanced perspective is necessary to get some things done in Catania.


Answering the Trump Ban on Refugees


Facebook has been on fire about Trump’s recent ban on refugees.  Some people love the idea of keeping refugees out, especially those from Muslim countries.  Some people can’t believe this is happening in America.

For those that are appalled by this action, is any of this really that surprising?  I mean, come on.  As a regular ol’ American, how many refugees do any of us really know?  Or asked another way, how many Muslims do most of us coming from a Christian background actually know.  Sure, maybe you work with someone from a Muslim background, but do you really know them?  I would dare say that the answer, for most people, is that we actually know few to none.

I can say this because this is my story as well.  I now live in Catania, Italy and am around refugees from a Muslim background very frequently.  I know from experience that an extremely high percentage of the people that I come into contact with are just regular people.  They just want to not be caught in violence, or have a better life in some way.  In many ways, I enjoy hanging out with these people from a refugee and Muslim background as much, if not more, than many others that I am connected with.

But that wasn’t always the case.  I can’t say that I really *knew* too many Muslim people when I lived in America.  I can’t say that I spent a lot of time with refugees while there.  In fact, the majority of my experience with people from a Muslim background while I lived in America was what the media told me, and what the media told me was that buildings were blowing up and falling down, that people were being shot, that wars were happening and many good people were dying trying to fight back against the militant Islamic people.

Our brains quickly generalize.  We easily think that all Muslims come from a militant background and are the same, no matter who you are talking about.

Most of us know that isn’t true, but as long as we don’t personally have any examples to the contrary, we aren’t able to actually make a dent in the fear that leads to situations like refugees being cut off from America.

So I’m directly speaking to the people who are appalled by what they are seeing in the politics in America.  If you truly do not like what you are seeing, you have an opportunity to begin making a difference.  You can start the process of changing what you do not like.  Not by posting your opinions on Facebook.  Not by sharing the next news article.  In my opinion, none of those things make any difference at all.  It isn’t about making your voice heard, it is about taking action.  If you are so offended, here are some ideas:

  • Figure out where there are refugees in the area, especially those that come from a Muslim background.
  • Deliberately go and meet them.  Spend time with them.  Get to know them.  Share your life with them.
  • Take someone else with you and teach them to do the same thing.

If you want to actually make a difference, you have to lead the way.  You must act, and it will be personal.  If you do that, and take some other people and teach them to do the same thing, you will make a difference.  That is how you will affect the politics that you are seeing now.  You can make a change for the future.  I believe this is the way forward that will make a difference.