How Do You Know Jesus?

I was having a conversation with a very close friend this week. He’s going through a tough time in his life. He has been close to God, in the past, but… not right now, not so much. He asked me a question, and I said, “Well, I know you don’t want to hear my real answer – because you know that my real answer would come out of my religion. But, I can still give you a practical answer. Do you know what he said?

He said, “Actually, I do want you to tell me your real answer. Give me your religious answer. I knew when I asked you that it would be a religious answer, and it’s what I want from you.”

This made my heart leap for joy, of course. Not because I got to express my deepest beliefs, but because I genuinely think that in this answer, my friend will find his greatest peace.

We talked for quite awhile. The conversation was great. Our relationship, which was already solid, was strengthened. Near the end, as we were winding down on the phone and getting ready to end the call, he said, “You know God one way, and I know God another way. It’s not the same for me.”

This reminded me of a parable that Jesus told. Can you think which one? Yes, of course. It’s the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew chapter 25. Jesus told a story about a rich man who was going on a journey. Before he left, he called three of his servants into the room and spoke with them. He gave one of them five talents. This was a measure of silver, used as money. Five talents was a lot of money. He gave the second servant two talents, and to the third servant the rich man gave one talent of silver. He told them to invest the money while he was gone, and see if they could make a profit. The third servant took his one talent and – well – I’ll let him tell it.

“Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.” (Matthew 25:24-25)

It’s a great parable. We see here that different people know Jesus in different ways. Kind of like my friend and I, when he said, “You know God one way, and I know God another way. It’s not the same for me.”

So, I’m curious. How do you know Jesus?

Well, I have the keyboard right now, so I’ll go first.

I know him to be stronger than I have been able to imagine. He is more patient with me than I deserve. His thought aren’t my thoughts, and his ways aren’t my ways, but when I do things his way, my life is better. I have never been able to drive him away, but he’ll keep at a distance if I demand it of him. Then, when I’m ready (finally ready!), he draws close again. He is able to change my heart. He is able to change my mind. He is able to change my attitude. He is able to make me able to forgive those who have hurt me the most. He is able to urge me on when I want to quit. He helps me stand when I’ve fallen, and helps me run when I can only stagger. I am best when I am his, and worst when I am my own.

Would you like to know Jesus like this? It’s easier than you might think, yet harder than anything you’ve ever done. Here is how to know Jesus better. Close your eyes (just kidding, it doesn’t matter!), and say something like, “God, I’m ready to know you as you really are. I don’t know how to meet you, so it’s up to you, but now would be a good time. I’m ready for you, Father.”

Will you do me this kindness? When you meet him, schedule a time with me to tell me about it. Thanks. I’m praying for you, Friend. If you’re reading this, I’m praying for you.

–Bob Young

6/2/2017

How To Keep Going When You Can’t Keep Going

I will not give you a trite answer. There are plenty of those, you know, and I’m sure you’ve heard them. “Suck it up.” “It could be worse.” “Look on the bright side.” “One day at a time.” “You’re an inspiration.” “Be thankful for what you’ve got.” “Pray about it and ask God to help.” To be completely honest, there’s nothing wrong with any of those answers. They’re all true enough. And yet, in the middle of your hardest battle, they seem cliché.

So, here is my attempt to give you an actionable plan for moving forward when everything is pushing you back. There are three things you must have, and three steps you can take.

To begin, here are the three things you must have:

  1. You must have Purpose
  2. You must have Hope
  3. You must have Relationships

Now, let’s take a closer look at each of them. What are these things, really, and how do we get them? At the end of each of the three items, you’ll find an action step.

Jesus showed us the way.

1. You must have Purpose.

Jesus told us about his purpose.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

(John 10:10, ESV)

Jesus came, knowing that he was going to suffer and die for others. And yet, to paraphrase a current slogan, “He persisted.” Purpose. It was his purpose that motivated him to continue, even when he had no place to lay his head, even when entire towns rejected his message, even when betrayed by one friend and deserted by other friends. It was Jesus’ purpose that kept him going.

Your purpose must be large enough to outweigh your suffering.

ACTION STEP: Ask yourself, “Have I chosen a purpose for my life, and committed myself to it without reservation?”

2. You must have Hope.

Jesus saw beyond today’s troubles.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

(Luke 23:43, ESV)

Hope in the future unmasks the present’s true nature: it is transient. This is not the end. Your suffering isn’t eternal.

During a message one day I asked the listeners to raise their hand if they met any of the following conditions in the last five years: divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment, serious illness, death of a loved one, and so forth. Nearly everyone in the room had experienced one or more of those tragedies.

I said, “I want you to think of your darkest day. As you went through that trial, remember the darkest day. Now, raise your hand if life has gotten better.”

Almost everyone raised a hand.

Friend, do you see? Satan wants you to believe that life will never get better. Today’s crisis is tomorrow’s crisis. And it will be that way the next day, and the next, and the next… But the reality is that our hope in a better future is justified.

Admittedly, you may be facing a long, long trial. There may be no cure for the illness. You may be caring for someone with autism. Maybe you lost a limb in a war. This is for life. There is no five year mark on the calendar, where you can say, “This is the day my trouble ends.”

That’s why we need to understand God’s timeline. Even when the trial is certain to last until death, we can still have hope. I will say it again: hope in the future unmasks the present’s true nature: it is transient. This is not the end. Your suffering isn’t eternal.

ACTION STEP: Look beyond the trial, no matter how long it may be scheduled to last, and see your brighter, and certain, future.

3. You must have Relationships

When I was a little boy, still in elementary school, I asked my dad (who was a minister), “Dad, why did God make us? I mean, I know God created us, but – why?”

Dad replied, “For fellowship. God created us for fellowship with him.”

This answer made no sense to me. Remember, I was still a schoolboy. But I never forgot Dad’s answer, and years later, I finally understood it.

Here are some of the things Jesus said to his disciples on the night of his betrayal:

“Rise, let us go.” (John 14:31)

“No longer do I call you servants, but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15)

“Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40)

What made this night bearable for Jesus? Was it entirely the strength he received from God? There is that, and I won’t minimize it. In the end, of course, God the Father was the only one who remained. And that, too, is a testament to relationship. But I also won’t minimize the importance of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. He needed them that night. In the end, they disappointed him – but Jesus demonstrated the value of relationships in the midst of suffering.

We can endure much, much more when we go through life’s trials together. It is beyond the power of mathematics to explain this spiritual truth:

A load shared by two weighs one quarter of a load carried by one.

ACTION STEP: In your struggle, may I give you some advice? Don’t neglect relationships, and don’t use your suffering as an excuse for bad behavior.

Purpose. Hope. Relationships. With these three things, you will survive, and thrive.

–Bob Young
[5/11/2017]

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Books by Bob Young
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How A Prayer Is Formed

There’s a Starbucks about halfway between the hotel where I’m staying and the Technical Training Center where I’m teaching network security to the IT group from a power company. I stop here every morning for a hot breakfast sandwich and a 16 ounce vanilla latte. Today is the third day.

Every morning, I’ve seen this one unsmiling barista. I don’t know how she stays employed, really. The other baristas are all cheerful. In fact, one of them just started spontaneously whistling along with the in-store music for a moment as I’m writing this.

Yesterday, the unsmiling barista was the one who took my order. She didn’t greet me, she didn’t make eye contact. She just did her job. Going through the motions.

Today, a different barista took my order, and was exhibiting that cheerfulness that one is accustomed to in coffee shops everywhere. I sat down at a table while waiting for my food and coffee to be ready, and watched.

The unsmiling barista, head down, moved about behind the counter. Busy. Dilligent. Efficient. Her appearance, other than her deep sadness, is unremarkable. If she’s single, she’ll have no trouble attracting a lover, but at the same time, she has probably never considered herself beautiful. She is, of course. To someone, she is, or will be, the most beautiful woman in the world. Even then, she may doubt it.

I couldn’t distract myself from her sadness. So, while waiting for my food, sitting there, I prayed for her.

“Father, let me see her smile this week.”

But the prayer was wrong, and the Holy Spirit beckoned me to try again.

“Father, make her truly happy.”

But, no, that wasn’t it. The Holy Spirit urged me to continue.

“Father, heal her pain.”

There. That was the prayer God was waiting for.

And she will be healed. Whether soon or long, I do not know, but God assured me then that she will, indeed, be restored.

Whatever deep sadness she now endures will one day be resolved. The circumstances may not change. History cannot be undone. But she will rise. And when she does, she will have a fulfilling present, and hope for the future will return.

Friend, when you pray for someone, pray until you receive that peace from God that indicates you have prayed his heart.

–Bob Young
3/5/2017

Ask Bob #94: Is It Okay To Harden Your Heart?

Today’s Question: A friend asked me, “Bob, is it okay to harden your heart?”

My Answer: Now, that’s a fascinating question – thanks for asking! The answer, as you might expect, has a few layers to it. Let’s start by taking a look at some biblical examples.

Example #1 – God hardened Pharaoh’s heart

The first passage we’ll look at is found in the Old Testament, in the story of Moses and the Exodus:

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.”
(Exodus 9:12, NIV)

Well, that’s interesting! I mean, after all, if God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, then it must be okay that his heart was hard, right? But of course, we know that’s not true. It was a most unfortunate circumstance that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened after each of the first nine plagues. I don’t remember who said it, so I can’t give him or her the appropriate credit, but I remember hearing this profound statement: “The same sun that softens wax hardens clay.” God was just being God. He knew that his actions would result in a hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, but ultimately, that hardening was a result of Pharaoh’s own nature. Someone else may see God’s activity and find their heart warmed and softened in his presence. But not Pharaoh.

Example 2 – An example of God having a hardened heart

In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter quotes from King David in Psalm 34:

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
(I Peter 3:12, NIV)

In this passage, which has the affirmation of both King David and Peter, we are told that God sets his face against some people. So then – if it’s okay for God to have a hard heart, then it must be okay for us to have a hard heart, too, right? Well, not so fast; there’s more to consider before we come to a final conclusion.

Example 3 – Court judges are to have a certain hardness of heart

In a rather famous Old Testament passage that prescribes the death penalty for murderers, we find these words given to court judges:

“Show no pity. You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you.”
(Deuteronomy 19:13, NIV)

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. There are circumstances that call for justice, not mercy; for punishment, not a free pass. There is a time to balance the scale, to right the wrong, to defend the weak, to stop the tormentor.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that one of the most important wisdom passages in the entire Bible is found in the writings of Solomon, in the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. Solomon wrote, “There is a time for everything.”

Relevant to our question here are the following excerpts:
a time to kill and a time to heal
a time to love and a time to hate
a time for war and a time for peace

So, Friend, to answer your question: Yes. There are times when it’s okay, even wise, to harden your heart. There are times when you must set your preference for mercy aside. There are times when you must demand, or administer, justice.

But wait – there’s more to consider…

I wish I knew why you asked your question. It would help me to answer you clearly if I knew what prompted you to ask. Because, you see, the passage I referenced from Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to hate, yes – but it also says there’s a time to love. There is a time to kill, yes – but there is also a time to heal.

May I suggest a more accurate question? One that is, in fact, a much more difficult question? With your permission assumed, here is the harder question:

When is it okay to harden your heart?

Ah. There’s the rub. This is what you’re really after, isn’t it? You have been hurt. Betrayed. Misled. Lied to. Deceived. Hit, battered, bruised, and broken. Your trust has been held in another’s hands, and those hands have cast your trust, forcefully and heartlessly, to the ground, where your trust, and your very heart, now lay shattered and broken.

And all your life, in every church, you have been told that Jesus said you are to forgive. Not once, not twice, not even three or seven times – but over and over again.

I’m going to try, with one sentence, to set you free from your dilemma. Here it is. Here’s my declaration of your freedom:

Forgiveness and trust are not the same thing.

Do you see? You never have to trust the betrayer again. You see them now, and you understand: they are not trustworthy. You can forgive, without going back. You don’t ever have to enter that room again. You don’t ever have to walk that path again. There is a fork in the road, and from this point forward, you and the Harmer will not be walking on the same path.

There’s one more concept you need to grasp, by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, so that you can be as powerful as God intends you to be:

A hard heart does not rule out forgiveness.

Dwell on this. Meditate on it for a while. Do you see? You can forgive, and still have the judge’s hard heart. You can still demand justice. You can still testify to the truth. And yet, even while requiring justice, your heart can hold forgiveness. Not trust. Forgiveness.

Conclusion

Pharaoh’s hard heart is wrong. Pharaoh is willing to hate others, to use others.

The judge’s hard heart is right. The judge is willing to restrain evil and protect the innocent.

Jesus is both Judge and Savior. He is our example of the perfect combination of a hard heart and a forgiving heart.

–Bob Young
04/22/2017

Books by Bob Young
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Thanking God In All Circumstances

Yesterday I was moving a lot of stuff into our new apartment. Trip after trip, from the car to the apartment and back again. I noticed that the rain had stopped, so I prayed, “Thank you, Father, for this break in the weather.”

I carried that load into the apartment, and then, when I came back outside, it was raining again.

Me: “Aw, God, what’s up with this? I just said thank you for the good weather, and now it’s raining again.”

God: “In everything give thanks.”
Me: “What?”
God: “You know I’m not in the habit of repeating myself when I speak to you.”

[Sidenote: that’s true. Many years ago, God worked with me on what might be called, “first command obedience.” You see, in the Navy, I learned that obedience needs to be instant. But, with God, my obedience was… well, let’s call it reluctant. His lesson to me then was that I considered Navy Lieutenants to outrank God, because I would obey Lieutenants immediately, but I would stall on doing what God told me to do. Well, that had to change. God should only have to speak to me once.]

Me: <sigh> “Okay, you’re right, I heard you, and I know that’s 1st Thessalonians 5:18. And I know I have much to be thankful for right now. We’re living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and this rain is what makes it so beautiful. So, in all sincerity, thank you, Father, for this rain.”

I got another load from the car and carried it through the rain into the apartment. I put the load down, turned around, and went back outside.

The rain had stopped.

–Bob Young
[4/9/2017]

Books by Bob Young
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Ask Bob #93: What Does Meek Inherit The Earth Mean?

Today’s Question: Hi Bob, I hope you are doing well. Can you explain (if you have the time) the line from the Bible that goes “the meek shall inherit the earth?”

My Answer: Friend, I love your question! And I will make the time to answer it! It’s based on something Jesus said. Matthew told us about it when he quoted Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Here’s the actual passage:

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5, ESV)

This passage has been the starting point for many explanations which are the verbal equivalent of gymnastic contortions. It’s a problematic passage for any Christian who is unwilling to accept the plain Biblical truth that meekness is a virtue. Many of the classic explanations for this passage use the same illustration over and over again, and go something like this: “A wild horse that has been tamed is meek. This doesn’t mean the horse is timid or weak; rather, it means the horse is now obedient. Therefore, we may describe meekness as ‘power under control.’”

Commentators go to great lengths to say, explicitly, that “meekness is not weakness,” and “being meek doesn’t mean being timid.”

Uh, there’s a problem here! Because Jesus explicitly talks about turning the other cheek. Jesus is described as fulfilling Old Testament prophecy when, during his trial, he “opened not his mouth.” Jesus chose weakness. Do you get that? He chose it. On purpose. And, in some situations, weakness is exactly the response that God requires of you, if you intend to follow his son, Jesus.

Personally, I don’t like the “tamed horse” illustration at all. Do you know what else we call a tamed horse? Broken. Newsflash: Jesus wasn’t broken. Nobody tamed Jesus. So, if you’ve got one of those Bible commentaries that describes “meek” as being like a tamed horse, cross out that section and write in the margin, “This is a terrible example!”

The other explanation – “power under control” – is well-intentioned, but inadequate and inaccurate. To be more accurate, recall that Jesus gave up his power. Jesus chose to be powerless. He let the High Priest, the Governor, and the Roman soldiers have both control and power. The Apostle Paul described Jesus’ choice to be crucified this way:

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8, ESV)

Jesus humbled himself. Did you get that? James Strong, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, uses three synonyms to define “meek.” Those three synonyms are: gentle, mild, and humble (Abingdon Press, Thirty-third printing, 1975, Greek dictionary appendix, entries 4235 & 4239).

Let’s be clear: the virtue of meekness means becoming so weak that you give up control. Now, this was not always Jesus’ mode of operation. Refer to Ecclesiastes 3, and observe that there is a time for everything. There is a time for meekness, and there is also a time for power. Just don’t let human pride or shy Bible commentators keep you from recognizing the immeasurable value of meekness at the right time, in the right situation. No, Christian, you cannot always stick up for your rights. Jesus didn’t always stick up for his rights – are you more privileged than Jesus?

When Jesus said what he said about the meek inheriting the earth, did you know that he was quoting from the Old Testament?

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!

    Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

For the evildoers shall be cut off,

    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;

    though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.

But the meek shall inherit the land

    and delight themselves in abundant peace.

(Psalm 37:8-11, ESV)

Meekness is well-defined for us here in this Psalm of David. David plainly describes the characteristics of the meek. They choose not to get angry, they abandon the path of wrath that they formerly walked on, they wait patiently for the Lord, and they delight in peace. More specifically, their meekness is what leads them to peace – abundant peace!

And, by the way, as we look at the words of David that Jesus was quoting in the Sermon on the Mount, we see what it means to “inherit the earth.” The angry people and the evildoers don’t win in the end. Their power and success are temporary. Don’t be fooled. Ultimately, they lose everything. The meek will find themselves the winners, and “winners take all.”

The word “meek” hasn’t been used too often in the more modern English translations. In the King James Version, it is used in the New Testament exactly four times: Matthew uses “meek” three times, and Peter uses it once. The references are:

Matthew 5:5

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

We’ve already talked about Matthew 5. Jesus is the one who said it. Meekness is a good thing, so don’t try to soften or alter what the word means.

Matthew 11:29

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

In Matthew 11, Jesus describes himself as meek. Meekness is a good thing. Don’t let human pride cause you to avoid it.

Matthew 21:5

“Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.”

The passage in Matthew 21 is a quote from a prophecy about Jesus in Zechariah 9:9. The word “meek” is used in the King James Version. Almost all modern versions, including the Revised Standard Version (RSV), New American Standard Version (NASB), New International Version (NIV), and English Standard Version (ESV), translate the word as “humble.” It’s a virtue. And it was good enough for Jesus. Don’t let pride cause you to try to make the word more palatable.

I Peter 3:4

Describing a Christian woman’s inner beauty, the Apostle Peter, who wrote in Greek, is translated this way in the King James Version: “even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” In this passage, “meek” is translated as “gentle” in the RSV, NASB, NIV, and ESV.

Conclusion

To summarize all this, we need to do two things: (1) understand the word “meek,” and (2) understand the phrase, “inherit the earth.”

Meek: gentle, mild, humble. It does not include the concept of control or power, but it does include the concept of choice. When Jesus chose meekness, he gave up power and control. He turned the other cheek. And he tells his followers to do the same. There are times when surrender, gentleness, humility, are the right choice.

Inherit the earth: Jesus was quoting David in Psalm 37. David’s passage does not contain any explicit reference to the end times. David wrote that the successes of the wicked, the successes of the angry, are transient. Ultimately, the evil fail, and the righteous prevail. Of course, there is an implicit reference to the end times in this passage: because this is what the end times will bring. Evil will be brought to a permanent end, and peace will be the permanent destiny. But in Psalm 37, David is taking a much shorter-range view, and saying, “live your life this way today, and you’ll be better off – throughout your life!”

And now, I urge you…

So, Friend, I urge you to put away your pride. Yes, there are times when bravery, courage, and action are called for. Remember Solomon’s lesson in Ecclesiastes 3. But when you must fight, you must fight without pride. You must fight because it is right, regardless of reputation.

And likewise, I urge you to accept meekness, humility, gentleness. Solomon also taught us in Ecclesiastes 3 that there is a time to give up control, to choose weakness. Jesus demonstrated weakness every bit as much as he demonstrated power (“Who is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”) When meekness is called for, embrace it, regardless of reputation.

When you follow Jesus, all things are yours, because you are his.

–Bob Young
[3/25/2017]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

 

Your Big Lock And Chains

Are your chains heavy? Is the padlock impenetrable? Is the steel too hard to cut? Does it require a hammer and chisel that you are too weak to hold?

Friend, don’t be discouraged that you can’t break that lock. You don’t need to break it. God knows your lock’s combination. God has your lock’s key. Just ask God, and he’ll unlock it and set you free.

–Bob Young
[3/17/2017]

Books by Bob Young
http://www.amazon.com/author/bobyoung

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