Did You Think It Would Be Easy?

The Harvest, by Bob Young

Can two contradictory things be true? Probably not. Can we see a contradiction where none exists? That’s more likely.

The Apostle Paul made two seemingly contradictory assertions in the same sentence:

But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
(I Corinthians 16:8-9)

Wait, what? Ask him with me: “Paul, how can your work be effective if you have many adversaries? I mean, if your work is effective, doesn’t that mean everyone is convinced by your preaching? Aren’t you becoming famous? Aren’t you popular?”

But, when we stop and think it through, we realize that Paul understands the reality of Christian service. Take Jesus, for example. Jesus was effective – many lives were being transformed.

Zacchaeus said, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I [now] restore it fourfold.” (Luke 19:8)

Zacchaeus was a changed man, and it was because Jesus was doing effective work. But at the same time, Jesus was accumulating a long list of adversaries, including some very powerful people.

Sometimes, you only have one adversary (Satan), and the difficulties show up as circumstances, rather than as people. As an example, consider the trouble-upon-trouble experienced by Job.

Christian, here is the Satanic delusion: You may be tempted to think that, because of adversaries or trials, your work isn’t effective.

The reality – experienced by Jesus, Paul, and many others – is that effective work generates opposition.

When that happens to you, what should you do? Do what Paul did: stay in Ephesus. Stick it out. See it through. Bring your work to completion. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Don’t lose faith. Don’t lose hope.

Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.
(I Corinthians 16:13-14)

Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

–Bob Young
[16 September 2017]

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When Fear Surrounds

Have you ever been to Space Mountain at Disneyland? Basically, it’s a rollercoaster ride in the dark. There are some pinpoints of light (stars), but the whole experience is designed to be disorienting. Up, down, right, left, tummy-turning, yell-inspiring, fear-inducing, exciting. For some people, it can be scary. For other people, it’s just fun. The difference? It has to do with how you face the unknown.

It occurred to me that Space Mountain is a great allegory of our walk with God. Life can be crazy scary at times. We can’t see what’s ahead of us, and our feeling may be one of falling, falling, falling – and we’re afraid that we’re about to crash.

But it doesn’t have to be scary. If we trust the creator of the ride, we know – we KNOW – that we’re going to come out of the ride okay. We’re going to end up safely in a comfortable and familiar place.

Does God have you on a fast ride through dark and scary places? Well, God loves you, you know. He’ll bring you through this.

–Bob Young
14 September, 2017

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Ask Bob #95: Which Comes First?

Today’s Question: “Bob, there’s something I’ve been contemplating lately. Which comes first: repentance or forgiveness?”

My Answer: [Said with a delighted smile] Oh, Friend, you enjoy the hard questions, don’t you? Very well, I’ll enjoy the answering of it!

To begin, I’ll ask you a question: which comes first: the ocean, or the rain-filled clouds?

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?

And so it is with repentance and forgiveness. There is no cause for one without the other. The two spring into being, fully formed, at the same instant. Or, at least, we must say, “Only God knows.”

But here, let me give you a harder answer, a more detailed answer. To do so, we must first be clear about why the question seems so hard to us. The question seems complicated because we equate repentance with changed behavior, and if we don’t see obvious, visible signs of changed behavior, we take it upon ourselves to conclude that there hasn’t been any real repentance, and thus, there can’t have been any real forgiveness.

In a moment, I’ll show you why our human efforts at validating changed behavior will always fall short. Before that, though, I’ll take a moment to explain why this question is even a cause of controversy in the church.

Argument #1: “Repentance comes before forgiveness.”

There are scriptures which, if taken by themselves, support this position. For example:

 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2:37-38, ESV)

Well, that seems pretty clear, doesn’t it? “Repent…for forgiveness.”

But, on the other hand…

Argument #2: “Our knowledge of forgiveness leads us to repentance.”

The Bible turns everything upside down. Jesus forgave the ones who crucified him, and they hadn’t repented.

And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
(Luke 23:33-34, ESV)

And, of course, there’s that pesky thief on the cross, who may have repented, but had absolutely no opportunity to prove to us judgmental types that he had any changed behavior.

And he [Jesus] said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
(Luke 23:43, ESV)

Jesus, you see, doesn’t need to see our behavior to know what’s really going on in our hearts.

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?
(Matthew 9:4, ESV)

So, where does that leave us? On the one hand, there are passages that speak of repentance followed by forgiveness. On the other hand, Jesus has the audacity (and the authority!) to forgive without any repentance at all (for example, the people who gleefully crucified him).

Okay, now it’s time to back up a bit. Earlier, I wrote, “I’ll show you why our human efforts at validating changed behavior will always fall short.” Now it’s time for me to make good on that promise. To do so, I’ll tell you a story…

The Parable of the New York Prostitute

There was a prostitute in New York City who had a young daughter, a toddler. One day she met a Christian woman who helped her get a job as a clerk in her bookstore. She was able to leave prostitution behind and earn a living from selling books. In the course of time, she also learned about the love of Jesus from the Christian woman, and became a follower of Jesus herself. She had hated herself for her former life of prostitution, and worried about the effect it would have on her young daughter. She found great joy in her relationship with God and the sense of forgiveness that she had obtained. But in the course of time, the sale of books on the Internet increased, and the sale of paper books at the bookstore declined. Finally, the bookstore closed, and she was unemployed. She looked for another job, but didn’t find one right away. The rent on her apartment was due in four days, and she was already two months behind. She knew that she would be evicted soon. So, she did the only thing she knew to make some money. She turned again to prostitution, and was able to pay the back rent and buy some food. But a woman from the church saw her get into a car with a man and reported to the Elders, “She has been fooling us! She isn’t a Christian at all!” Then the Elders went to her apartment and asked her not to return to their church.

Do you see? A penitent heart sometimes occurs a long time before we see changed behavior. And sometimes the changes in our behavior are more like a yo-yo than an arrow. This happens when we want to change, but don’t see how we can change.

But God takes a different view of your life. In fact, God has a different view on all of time. You must understand: God already sees who you will be, not just who you are.

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning.
(Isaiah 46:9-10, ESV)

Did you get that? God declares the end from the beginning.

In the first chapter of John’s Revelation, God said,

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”
(Revelation 1:8, ESV)

And in the last chapter of John’s Revelation, Jesus said,

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
(Revelation 22:13, ESV)

God knows your heart, and he knows all time. That is why repentance and forgiveness, like clouds and ocean, exist together, rather than in any sequence.

This article is getting long, but please indulge me while I tell you another story.

I have vivid memories of a “relationship challenge” when I was a teenager. I had gotten in trouble, and I was sitting in the living room with Mom and Dad. The three of us were discussing what I had done wrong. The discussion was almost over. It was late, and time for everyone to go get ready for bed. I hesitated. Mom picked up on my reluctance to leave, and said, “What is it?” Barely able to hold back the tears, I looked at both of my parents as I asked, “Am I forgiven?”

They both assured me that yes, I was indeed forgiven. They told me that we can leave this in the past, learn from it, and go forward.

The point I want to make with the story is this: my mother loved me no less before, and no more after, that night of understanding. The difference was not in her love for me, but in the quality of our relationship. Now, we could commune without sin’s hindrance.

Let me give you an example of communing without sin’s hindrance.

We lived just a couple of blocks from the high school. Every day at noon I walked home from the school, and my Dad (a Pastor) drove home from the church, and we had lunch together. We made sandwiches, sat across the kitchen table from each other with a chess board between us, and played a game or two of chess as we ate.

Now, imagine the day after that conversation in the living room, if I had not known that my Dad had forgiven me. The chess game at lunchtime would have been agony! There I would have been sitting across the table from the man who (in my mind) despised me, going through the motions of familial love. I would have sat there, imagining his smoldering resentment, or bitter scorn.

It is important to forgive. It’s also important to know that you’re forgiven.

Time does not heal all wounds. Time buries wounds. It doesn’t heal them.

Time does not heal all wounds of offense. Forgiveness does. This is why repentance and forgiveness matter. Take the healing, the new life, that Jesus has prepared for you.

–Bob Young
10 September, 2017

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What if God…?

What if your Creator only desires the best and highest for you?
What if all religious perversion of the best and highest springs from human misunderstanding, and doesn’t come from God?
Would you trust God then?
Would you love God, your Creator, as God loves you?

Your brokenness can be repaired.
Your loneliness can be replaced with companionship.
Your despair can turn to hope.
Your fear can give way to courage.
Your bitterness can melt away.
Your load can be lifted.
Your heart – your heart! – can be made new.

Because, yes – your Creator only desires the best and highest for you.

–Bob Young
5 September, 2017

Books by Bob Young
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It’s Not Easy Being Black

After giving this article the title, “It’s Not Easy Being Black,” the first thing I’d better say is, I’m white. My ancestors are from Scotland, Ireland, England, and Holland. So, I have no experience with being black. And yet, after sixty-two years on this planet, I do have a few observations about life, and one of them is this: it’s not easy being black in America.

Today I posted this observation on Facebook. “It’s not easy being black in America.”

Before I clicked to apply the post, I already knew what the reactions would be. Some posted their reactions, most didn’t – but I know what the whole range of responses was. Some people nodded their heads sadly and agreed. Some people shook their heads and said, “Why does Bob post stuff like that?” Some people said, “How would Bob know? He’s not black. Why doesn’t he stick to topics he can speak about with real knowledge and experience?” Some people said, “Oh, great. There’s a white guy who thinks he’s helping us all by expressing sympathy, but what he says doesn’t change one little thing. Maybe his conscience feels better.” Some people said, “Well, it’s not easy being me, either. What about my problems? Why single out one group? There are lots of us with problems.”

Yes. You’re right. There are lots of us with problems.

And yet, there is a reason, right now, in America, why a white person (that would be me) needs to write a public article pointing out the obvious. There is a reason to single out one group out of all the groups with problems. There is a compelling moral need, right now, to talk about the specific problem, the painful reality, of being black in America.

It’s like this.

It’s hard to be fat.
But it’s harder to be fat and black.

It’s hard to be old.
But it’s harder to be old and black.

It’s hard to be female.
But it’s harder to be female and black.

It’s hard to be autistic.
But it’s harder to be autistic and black.

It’s hard to be poor.
But it’s harder to be poor and black.

It’s hard to be LGBT.
But it’s harder to be LGBT and black.

It’s hard to be unemployed.
But it’s harder to be unemployed and black.

It’s hard to be uneducated.
But it’s harder to be uneducated and black.

It’s hard to have cancer.
But it’s harder to have cancer and be black.

Honestly, I don’t know if I would be successful as a black. And by successful, I mean doing what I’m doing now – faithfully following Jesus, my Lord. I know that I would be severely tempted to fall into one of two traps.

Trap #1: On the one hand, it’s possible that I might just give up. The struggle might be too much for me. I might become a silent failure, sinking as deeply as possible into the dark background of America, rarely seen, rarely heard. My defeat, my resignation, would have logical and predictable outcomes. If I gave up, I would spend a lot of time being unemployed, receiving whatever handouts I could get from the government or individuals. I might console myself, numb the pain, and forget my problems, by turning to alcohol, drugs, or both.

Trap #2: On the other hand, there is that part of me that has learned to stand up for myself, to fight, to flail my arms wildly against all attackers, real or imaginary. There is something in me that says, “I would rather be punished for fighting back than sit quietly and accept mistreatment that I don’t deserve. If anyone is going to hurt me, by golly, I’ll give them a reason!” I can see myself becoming violent, bitter, full of fomenting hatred, ready to explode every time the smallest spark ignites my short, fast, fuse.

I stand in awe of the sheer nobility that I see in many black people. They are the ones who avoid the two extremes that I fear would grip me. They are the blacks who are simply, plainly, kind to me. I don’t mean quietly subservient. I mean genuinely nice. These are the blacks who extend their warm friendship to me from the moment of first meeting, before they know how their friendship will be received. These are the blacks who take a chance, with every new encounter, even several times a day, choosing to initiate their interactions with every new person they meet with a positive regard and with an optimism about the relationship that might develop.

I’m not sure I’m that strong.

But I’ll do what I can. I’ll follow Jesus, and I’ll regard you as Jesus regards you, no matter who you are. And I’ll speak. I’ll speak out, because Jesus speaks out. I’ll speak, because silence in the face of evil, is evil.

–Bob Young
[8/14/2017]

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Publicly Reject White Supremacy

There’s a difference between calling yourself a Christian and actually following Jesus. Jesus didn’t say, “Be a Christian;” he said, “Follow me.” Many terrible, evil things have been done by Christians, but that’s not to say they were following Jesus.

Nazis And Christianity

“Some Nazis, such as Hans Kerrl, who served as Hitler’s Minister for Church Affairs pushed for ‘Positive Christianity’, which was a uniquely Nazi form which rejected its Jewish origins and the Old Testament, and portrayed ‘true’ Christianity as a fight against Jews.” (See Source 1)

“During the First and Second World Wars, German Protestant leaders used the writings of Luther to support the cause of German nationalism. On the 450th anniversary of Luther’s birth, which fell only a few months after the Nazi Party began its seizure of power in 1933, celebrations were conducted on a large scale by both the Protestant Churches and the Nazi Party. At a celebration in Königsberg, Erich Koch, at that time the Gauleiter of East Prussia, made a speech in which he, among other things, compared Adolf Hitler with Martin Luther and claimed that the Nazis fought with Luther’s spirit.” (See Source 2)

The majority of historians believe that Hitler was not a Christian, but he had no qualms about using Christianity to further his aims. “Hitler publicly claimed he believed in Christianity and an active God, and in one speech, he stated that he held Jesus in high esteem as an ‘Aryan fighter’ who struggled against Jewry and Jewish materialism.” (See Source 3)

Ku Klux Klan And Christianity

The KKK has presented itself as a Christian organization, adopting the symbolism, language, and rituals of Christian churches.

“Additionally, the cross was henceforth a representation of the Klan’s Christian message.” (See Source 4)

“Although members of the KKK swear to uphold Christian morality, virtually every Christian denomination has officially denounced the KKK.” (See Source 5)

Summary

The activists who endorse the beliefs, philosophies, and policies of the Nazis and/or the Ku Klux Klan do not follow Jesus. They may lie by calling themselves Christians, but they are not Christ-like. Supporting or endorsing these groups in any way, including silent acquiescence, is a rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

 

–Bob Young
8/12/2017

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Source 1: Steigmann-Gall, Richard (2003). The Holy Reich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 13–51.

Source 2: Wikipedia article: Religion_in_Nazi_Germany, which cites several sources.

Source 3: Wikipedia article: Religious_views_of_Adolf_Hitler, which cites several sources.

Source 4: Wade, Wyn Craig (1998). The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. USA: Oxford University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-19-512357-9.

Source 5: Perlmutter, Philip (January 1, 1999). Legacy of Hate: A Short History of Ethnic, Religious, and Racial Prejudice in America. M.E. Sharpe. p. 170. ISBN 978-0-7656-0406-4.

The Walking Dead

We build walls and fences to protect ourselves. People can cause us so much harm, and it doesn’t seem to matter if we love them or not. In fact, it doesn’t even seem to matter if they love us – because love can falter and grow cold. Yesterday’s lover is today’s tormentor. And so we build fences. We declare, “Yesterday’s lover may be my tormentor today, but I’ll not have tomorrow’s tormentor. No one else is allowed into my heart, ever.”

The decision to build a fence around your heart may not have its origin in a failed romance. Maybe it started when you were ostracized or ridiculed or bullied at school. Maybe it started earlier than that – sometimes, even our parents, poorly equipped for parenting, damage us and cause us to withdraw into a shell that we mistakenly believe brings comfort. The comfort of the fence, wall, or shell is a false comfort, though. It’s only comforting because of our sense of hopelessness, because of our conviction that no relationship can ever be worth the risk of repeating the pain of the past.

But let me try to explain what the fence really does…

A friend of mine shared some pictures he took of an old cemetery from the nineteenth century. Some of the gravestones are surrounded by fences. I was struck by one picture in particular, which shows a closeup of two gravestones inside a black wrought iron fence.

Here’s what I immediately noticed:

The fence was designed to keep people out, but it did nothing to keep out the weeds.

“Only the Trees Remember” by KD Musick

This is what happens when you build a fence around your heart. You keep people out, yes. But, the weeds still grow. Saddest of all? Your fence keeps out anyone who might help you pull the weeds. If you can’t pull the weeds yourself (and there are weeds in your heart that you cannot uproot), then the weeds will grow, and grow, and grow some more.

Jesus said, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
(Matthew 8:22 and Luke 9:60)

Jesus knew that sometimes there is little difference between the living and the dead. Maybe you know, it, too, from personal pain. Maybe your inner dying is a secret you never share.

Friend, Jesus knows betrayal. He knows pain. He knows what it is to have love repaid with hatred, to have healing repaid with injury, to have generosity repaid with – nothing! – instead, the ones to whom he gave only took the more.

Jesus shows us how to respond. Like Jesus, open your arms wide. Continue to love. When rejected, he went to the next town, and the next, and the next, and tried again to build relationships, to give love away, to make a profound and lasting difference in the lives others. Jesus doesn’t give up on the ones who hurt him. He hasn’t given up on me, and he hasn’t given up on you.

Jesus said, “You go, and do likewise.”
(Luke 10:37)

Friend, don’t stay there. Don’t stay there, inside the fence, dead, fertilizing the weeds with your decaying heart. Jesus invites you to live again, to tear down the fence, to love again.

–Bob Young
[8/6/2017]

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