His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)


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Expecting God to Change

God does not change, His laws do not change, and nothing He has taught us through His Son will ever change. If change is to happen, it must be within us. Jesus calls us to be reborn; to let go of our old self-driven life, and take on a new life driven solely by love for God. But our “self”, our ego is a stubborn beast and does not want to change. Many of us actually expect God to change instead.

Take Pastor Jane Spahr, for example. In her effort to promote same-sex marriage within the Presbyterian Church, she not only invites the church to change and support her opinions, but she seems to believe God has already done so: “I invite the church to understand and expand its view of marriage to incorporate all. I believe that God has said yes and the church has said no in its judicial court.” (April 30th issue of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

In the April 26th issue of the same newspaper, a supporter of Spahr’s position, in referring to the Presbyterian commissioners, is quoted as saying, “I hope, pray and believe that the spirit will move their hearts, and they will realize that now is the time for change.” Many of us advocate change, as long as the change goes our way; as long as others change to match our opinions and values.

Should God change His opinions to match ours? Should God proclaim our personal values higher than His own? To place our values above God’s, to place our opinions above God’s, to place our beliefs and views above God’s, is to exalt ourselves above God. What do you think Jesus would say to people like Jane Spahr, who apparently claim God has changed his views to match hers?

“For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

“The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind.” (Psalm 110:4)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Yet how about the claim that God has said “yes” to same-sex marriage? Does the Bible say this is true? Does Jesus say this is true? “Haven’t you read, that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

It sounds like Paul might have been referring to people of similar views as Pastor Spahr, when he said, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” (Romans 1:25-27)

Why do we not only expect other’s to change to match our opinions and beliefs, but we also expect God to change? Such is the power of the human ego. Pride and selfishness plague us at every turn.

Yet we all have a choice; to form our own opinions or confirm to others, or to agree with God. I choose God. Does that make me close-minded? Well, Jesus warned us that we will be persecuted on account of Him – bring it on.


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Whom do You Choose to Obey?

Given a choice, whom will you obey, men or God? The Presbyterian Church appears to give more authority to men, than God. At least according to what is quoted in the April 26th newspaper article in the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat. An attorney for the church, in referring to the behavior of pastor Jane Spahr, states, “As a community, no one in this church is above the law, above the constitution of this church.”

Yet what about God’s law and his written constitution, the Bible? I’ve mentioned it many times in my series of posts about the recent conflict between the Presbyterian Church and the Rev. Jane Spahr, who chooses to conduct same-sex marriages. The casual reader of the newspaper accounts of the conflict will see no mention of God or His word, as if God has no say in the issue.

God does have a say. What might Jesus say to the Presbyterian Church, who apparently put their own laws, their own constitution, their own book of order, above the laws of God?

He might say, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'” (Mark 7:6-7) Where are the rules taught by God?

Yet not even Jesus presumed to teach His own rules. “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24b) As in all aspects of our lives, we should endeavor to follow His example.

Another example was set for us, in the lives of the first apostles. When brought before the church leaders of their day and challenged, “Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.'” (Acts 4:19) “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29)
Whom do you choose to obey? Pastor Spahr has made her choice. The Presbyterian Church has made their choice. I invite you to defy them both and make a higher choice.


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Dangerous Thinking

Just because I have never actually told my children to not torture someone, doesn’t mean I’m for torture. I expect my children to think for themselves and take everything else I’ve taught them and apply it to all aspects of their life, whether or not I’ve given strict instructions about particular issues they may face. I believe God expects the same from His children.

Today I want to get back to the topic of the three newspaper articles I’ve already written about; the articles about the Presbyterian pastor, Jane Spahr, who chooses to conduct same-sex marriages, though the Presbyterian church has told her not to. In the second article in the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat, dated April 26, 2008, Spahr’s attorney “said she argued Friday that since there is no ‘strict prohibition’ against performing same-gender marriages, no offense can be established.”

I believe the attorney was referring to the Presbyterian Book of Order, in claiming there was no “strict prohibition”. Yet since the newspaper article wasn’t clear, and since some of us would like to think that the Presbyterian Church actually takes it’s instruction from a higher book than the Book of Order, some might think the attorney was referring to the Bible. So for the sake of discussion, let’s say people like Jane Spahr and her attorney, believe the Bible has “no ‘strict prohibition’ against performing same-gender marriages.”

Though I’ve read the Bible several times from cover-to-cover, my memory is poor. So please correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember ever reading about God telling us to not torture other people. And I don’t remember seeing instructions such as “thou shalt not sexually abuse your children.” So, those Catholic priests should all be let off the hook, right?

Also, I happen to be a degenerate; I like chains, whips and torture. So I’m going to come to your house, tie you up and have some fun with you. After all, I don’t see anything in the bible that strictly prohibits that kind of thing.

By the way, nothing in the previous paragraph is true – I’m just trying to get a point across. That point is this: we need to take ALL of what God has taught us and apply it to all aspect of our lives. We cannot just take pieces of God’s instruction. And another point, this time directed to the Presbyterian Church: the Book of Order is NOT the Bible, and should never be regarded as having anywhere near the same authority as the Bible!!! (just felt like throwing that one in)

Now I realize that I base this post on a quote from the attorney, not Spahr. Yet the attorney represents Spahr, and minister Spahr supposedly represents God. My concern is that some who have read the newspaper article might come to the dangerous conclusion I tried to illustrate above. Yet when people take the word of God as recorded in the bible, for granted; then they will indeed be lost in a quagmire of un-truth. And as you may know, I’m all about the truth; not my truth or your truth, but God’s truth, as recorded in the bible. And what is that truth?

“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.'” (1Corinthians 4:6)

Just for the record, the Bible does say something about homosexuality, a lot actually. Here is just one example: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1Corinthians 6:9-10)

…but as Jesus would add, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)

And… “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:7)


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In Whom do You Trust?

In our lives we have choices about what or whom we want to trust. Many of us place our trust in Jesus and God. In addition, we place some of our trust in other things, such as money, other people, ourselves, civic leaders, laws that protect us, or maybe even traditions that help us feel like we’re staying on the right track. What does this look like, this sharing of our trust between Jesus and these other things?

Picture an old fashioned balance scale, with the two bowls hanging from either end of the cross arm. Let’s say you have a pocket filled with 100 pearls, with each pearl representing a bit of your trust. All of the pearls together make up all of the trust that is within you. Your task is to place the pearls into either or both of the bowls on the scale.

World…………………………..Jesus

One of the bowls represents things you are used to placing your trust in, like money, other people, ourselves, traditions, etc. Let’s call this bowl “world”. These things of the world sometimes help you make it through your life. You count on certain people to help and protect you; you trust in the civil laws to protect you; you count on doctors to heal you; you count on yourself to use your cleverness, knowledge and wisdom to solve your life’s problems; you count on your paycheck to provide you with the things you need; you count on your traditions to help give you a sense of wellbeing. So depending on the amount of trust you give to each of these worldly things, you place the appropriate amount of pearls into the “world” bowl.

The other bowl represents Jesus and the things of God. Let’s see, you trust Jesus with your eternal salvation; that’s a biggie, so maybe you put several pearls in His bowl. You trust Jesus to answer your prayers, so a few more pearls in His bowl. Continue placing the pearls in the two bowls until you have emptied your pocket.

Yet, as you go through life, you may move your trust from one bowl to the other. Let’s say you just got a raise at your job. Congratulations! With this increase of money coming in, maybe you decide to get a better car instead of that clunker you’ve been driving, or maybe you just feel you can now take on more debt since your raise will allow you to make higher monthly payments on your credit card. Basically you decide to put more trust in your money. But where will this trust come from? You’ve already emptied your pocket of your trust pearls.

Whenever you decide to place more trust in the “world”, you end up taking trust away from Jesus; that’s the only place where you can get more pearls. And the scale leans a bit more to the left, to the world. And your focus is drawn more to the world as well, since that is where more of your trust resides. What does your scale look like? Are there more pearls on the left or the right?

Now the all-important question; what does Jesus think about all this? Does He want only a portion of your trust? Maybe He would quote from Proverbs, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)

Please consider this; would you regard trust as an expression of love? And what kind of love does Jesus want from us? Does He just want a portion of our love? “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” (Matthew 22:37) Jesus wants All your trust, All your love.

Yet do you believe that you can rightly share your trust and love between Jesus and the world? What might Jesus say about that idea? “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Please give some thought to how your trust is divided, and, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” John 14:1


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Time to Look in the Mirror

I’m going to take a short break from the series I’ve been posting, to look in the mirror. What kind of image of Jesus Christ do I reflect to my friends, family and co-workers? They all know I’m Christian, so I suspect the non-believers in my circle of acquaintances may perceive Christianity as being what they see in me. And it doesn’t always look good.

Take yesterday for example; I experienced a “mild” loss of temper at work yesterday, with my venom aimed at my boss no less. In retrospect, I totally over-reacted. Yet the vision of a Christian living in the peace given by Jesus, the peace beyond human understanding, was no where to be seen.

I spent the evening trying to figure out why I had reacted the way I did. I reluctantly realized that it all boiled down to my selfishness. Things were not going the way I wanted them to, so I got upset. Now what might Jesus have to say to me?

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14b) Feeling embarrassed and a bit angry about my loss of temper indeed humbled me. I felt very low. And I just couldn’t get my mind off of the day’s events. Try as I might to focus of something else, my mind kept wrenching me back to my temper tantrum. I was reminded of Paul’s advice to the Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18)

“But Lord, it’s all so difficult for me. I’ve been striving to find true humility and peace almost all of my Christian life. I know that to keep my eyes firmly fixed upon you is the only true path to peace, yet I find it seemingly impossible in my world of earthly distractions. How can I do it? I just feel so helpless.”

“Jesus replied, ‘What is impossible with men is possible with God.’” (Luke 18:27)

“But Lord, I can’t help but worry about my lack of control over my behavior. As Paul lamented in chapter 7 of his letter to those in Rome, I know how I want to behave, and I know the image of you that I wish to project to others, but I’m just not able to do it.”

“O you of little faith? So do not worry… But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:30, 31, 33)

Thank you dear Jesus.


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A Church Divided

“The Presbyterian Church has been sharply divided over homosexuality, including the question of gay marriages, for more than 30 years.” My series on the controversy around same-sex marriages continues with this quote from the April 26 edition of the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat newspaper. As you may know by now, I am presenting a sequence of posts, focusing on three newspaper articles which told the tale of the latest battle of principles within the Presbyterian Church, with the Rev. Jane Spahr being in the center of the turmoil.

That brief extract from the short newspaper article conveys a very clear message; the Presbyterian Church is a church divided against itself. What does this tell us about Christianity and the relationship of fellow believers? To an outsider, Christians must look like a dysfunctional family. Is that the kind of image we really want to portray? Is that the kind of image that will entice others to join the family? Is that the kind of image Jesus wants us to put forth? Read His words and know the truth about how Jesus feels about relationships within His family.

“Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’” (Matthew 12:25)

And Jesus prayed for His family, “…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) If we call ourselves Christian, yet do not truly love one another, doesn’t that provide outsiders with a false image of Christianity? However, if we indeed love each other, Christianity will stand out as truly different and attractive. Might this be partly why Jesus focused so much on the command of love?

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:12-14)

Not only Jesus, but His apostles also had a lot to say on the topic:

“Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.” (James 5:9)

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19)

“I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3)

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'” (James 4:6)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)

Jesus must feel strongly about unity within His church. He provides not only His opinion, but also the solution – humility. A tall order for our egocentric race, yet something to pray about.

“Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11b)


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Eternally Condemned – Preaching a False Gospel

It’s amazing, the abundance of church leaders who seemingly ignore biblical warnings, when they are supposedly the people who know the most about the bible. I guess knowledge and wisdom don’t necessarily go together.

Today I present to you Part 2 of the 7-part series where I focus attention on the confusion around the issue of same-sex marriages. I draw my comments from a series of newspaper articles that recently appeared in the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat, about Presbyterian pastor Jane Spahr, who against the wishes of the Presbyterian governing body, conducts same-sex marriage ceremonies.

According to the 4/22/08 article, at one time a Presbyterian judicial commission which had jurisdiction, “ruled that Spahr had acted ‘within her right of conscience’ in performing same-sex marriages.” The church has since changed its tune and is now apparently not so accommodating. Yet Spahr states that she believes God supports her: “I believe that God has said yes and the church has said no in its judicial court.” (4/30/08 article) I cannot help but wonder where God says yes; I don’t see it in His written word.

My concern today is the responsibility of Christian leaders, such as Rev. Jane Spahr and the Presbyterian governing body. Christian leaders who call themselves ministers, preachers, pastors, priests, elders, deacons, whatever; they have the responsibility to represent Jesus Christ, which means they are obligated to stick to His word. When they change His word or add to His word, Jesus just might say something like what Paul told the Galatians in chapter 1 of his letter to them:

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:6-9)

Harsh words I know. And if they anger you, I choose more of Paul’s words: “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10) To those who support same-sex marriage, are they doing it for themselves, for others, or for God?

Jesus foresaw people like Rev. Spahr: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) “… and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.” (Matthew 24:11) Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.” (Luke 17:1)

What else might Jesus say to Rev. Spahr and others who choose to change His gospel to suit their own personal beliefs? “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do what my Father in heaven wants will enter.” (Matthew 7:21) “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” (Matthew 21:43)

Yet with Jesus, there is always hope: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.” (John 5:24)


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What About God’s Opinion?

Far too often, I encounter examples of people placing their opinions, principles and beliefs above those of God. In fact, we all are prone to placing ourselves above God, simply by ignoring His direction for our lives and following our own desires, as if we know better than He does about what’s best for our lives. So today, I will begin a 7-part series of posts, focusing on a series of articles recently published in the Santa Rosa (CA) Press Democrat newspaper, about the Rev. Jane Spahr, a retired Presbyterian pastor, who has chosen to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

As stated in the first of the articles, “To the Rev. Jane Spahr, the right of a Presbyterian Church minister to marry same-sex couples is a matter of principle and conscience. To her critics, Spahr … simply broke the law that governs the Presbyterian Church.” In addition, “Spahr … said the case is about the well-being of gays and lesbians, as well as her own principles.” (Press Democrat, 4/22/08 )

We know Spahr’s position, and we know the churches position. On both sides there doesn’t seem to be a care about God’s position. I may be way out of line here, since I’m basing what I write only on what I have seen in three newspaper articles. News articles are not always factual, plus there are likely scores of other quotes that may show a care for God’s opinion. However, my main concern here, as it is in most of what I write about, is what the public sees. For most of us, all we see is what makes it in the paper; and with that said I forge ahead.

What about God’s opinion in the matter? What about Jesus and the principles He taught? What might Jesus have to say about His apparent absence from the discussion? What might Jesus say about God’s opinion not being acknowledged? “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33 )

What might Jesus say about those on both sides of the issue, who seem to speak on their own, without relying on God’s words? “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” (John 7:17-18 )

Jesus even gave us advice for the principles we should preach; the best advice He could give, by being a living example. “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (John 8:28 ) “The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10) Paul also led by example: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (1 Corinthians 4:5) To Paul, his personal principles were not relevant; all that mattered was God. The humility exhibited by Paul appears to be lacking in the Spahr situation.

Why do people like Rev. Spahr preach something other than what is taught in the Bible? Maybe it’s as John stated in his gospel, “…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12:43) Are we called to love praise from others? “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment’.” (Matthew 22:37-38 ) Again, God does not ask us to seek praise for ourselves, but instead to seek God with all who we are.

Jesus’ final words to the Presbyterian Church and Rev. Spahr might be: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Mark 8:33) I invite all who read this to recognize the errors in the thinking of Spahr and the Presbyterian Church, and to look to their own motivations. Do you have in mind the concerns of God, or merely your own concerns?


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Jamie’s Lessons in Humility and Love

As I came out of the restaurant, he was walking by. It wasn’t at first obvious to me that he was homeless, though he pulled on a small cart carrying all his belongings – I can be dense sometimes. He paused and said something about how tough life is. I now feel ashamed that I required him to speak first, but at least I responded, and we were soon talking freely. Jamie likes to talk, quite a lot as I presently discovered.

Jamie is an alcoholic – he told me all about it. When he asked me for money and I declined, he understood my resistance and pointed out that most people like him would spend it on drugs or alcohol anyway. Jamie is 50 years old and he’s been drinking for 38 years.

Jamie is incredibly humble and honest about his situation. He told me about waking up that morning, covered in dirt, leaves, vomit and urine-soaked pants, in some weeds behind a church; the ragged end to a 3-day drinking binge (yet by the time we met, he had been to the mission where he got cleaned up and was given a new set of cloths).

Jamie told me about the mission that feeds the homeless old food that makes him sick and gives him diarrhea. And he told me about how he loves Jesus.

Jamie mentioned he really wanted a radio. I was very resistant at first, but I finally said I’d be willing to buy him one if there was a store near by (thank you Lord for Jamie’s persistence). The idea of giving a homeless person a ride in my nice, clean minivan did not appeal to me, as Jamie asked if I had a car nearby. I finally relented, again, and we loaded Jamie’s cart of belongings into the back of the van.

We talked about Jesus and God. Jamie’s knowledge and memorization of scripture was amazing. I think he knows far more than I about Gods word. And he kept giving God credit for the blessings in his life, like actually waking up alive that morning, after his 3-day binge.

There were other stories Jamie told, where he again praised God for the blessings in his life – like still being alive even though he’s been vomiting up blood lately; and still being alive even after he called a bunch of black youth “nigger” while he was so drunk he didn’t know what he was doing; or still being alive after getting extremely drunk and waking up to find himself literally hanging over the edge of a short cliff, over a stream. I don’t know if Jamie recognizes that God might be keeping him alive for a reason, but he does recognize that it’s God who’s keeping him alive. And he never hesitates with the words of praise.

Jamie appeared to talk with strength when he talked about Jesus. Jamie was about as low as you can go, but he still had a firm hold on Jesus, and he drew strength from his faith in Jesus.

After buying the radio and batteries, I was beginning to warm up to my task. I was getting much more relaxed around Jamie, almost feeling like buddies. I asked Jamie where he wanted to go next. We then headed toward another mission-type place where Jamie could see some friends, and maybe get some free cloths.

Jamie was much more generous than people like me who actually have stuff to give away. He offered to give me some brand new gloves that someone had given him. This reminded me of what Jesus said about the poor woman who gave her only two pennies to the temple. She who had nothing gave more than the richest. Jamie and I talked about that story.

We sat in the van, parked at the mission, and talked for probably 30 minutes. Jamie told a lot of the same stories over again. Before I left, we prayed together. Jamie asked for forgiveness of his selfishness – he sees it’s selfishness that’s keeping him drinking and on the streets; selfishness that’s keeping him from changing his ways. This man who has nothing sees selfishness as one of his biggest sins. How much more selfish are we?

Jamie helped me be a little less selfish and a little more loving. But I have a long, long way to go to get up to Jamie’s level. Jamie taught me a lot that day. Though he may think that he benefited most from our encounter, I would disagree.

Jamie and I spent an hour and a half together. In looking back at the encounter, there were so many times when I didn’t live up to God’s expectations: I resisted buying him food and the radio; I resisted giving him a ride in the van; I didn’t give him a hug when we parted; I didn’t offer to actively help him to get into some form of rehab; and there’s more if I look.

In looking at my experience with Jamie, what might Jesus say to me? Perhaps, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

… and to Jamie?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven… Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5)


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The Truth of the Holy Spirit

What do you believe about the Holy Spirit of God? Who do you say He is? What would you say is His role in your life? In a recent small group bible study I attend, in talking about the Holy Spirit, one member mentioned that the Holy Spirit really wasn’t present during Old Testament times. It was Jesus who brought the Spirit of God into the lives of people.

How would Jesus respond to this tidbit about His Spirit? What would Jesus say? Jesus often quoted from the Old Testament, and since it is the Spirit’s role during Old Testament times I would like to first focus on, let’s start there.

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)

“When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him.” (Numbers 24:2)

The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge.” (Judges 3:10)

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.” (Judges 6:34)

“Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.” (Judges 11:29)

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” (Isaiah 44:3) Here Isaiah records God’s foretelling the Spirit being made available to all, which was accomplished through Jesus Christ.

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11) David felt the Holy Spirit in his life, and even worried that God might take the Spirit from him.

Before Jesus walked the earth, the Holy Spirit “came upon” selected individuals. It appears from what is written in the Old Testament that the Spirit was not available to everyone, and no one was able to call the Spirit into their lives; God sent the Spirit at the time of His choosing.

Yet Jesus gave us a monumental change in the relationship we are able to have with His Spirit. As He has said…

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17)

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

Yet unlike David and his petition to God to never take the Spirits presence from him, we need never worry about the Spirit being taken from us. If we ever feel the Spirit is not present in our lives, it’s not because the Spirit has left. The Spirit has been given and will not be taken away; “…to be with you forever.” Yet sometimes our hearts and minds are so filled with the distractions of life that we just cannot sense the Holy Spirit, even though He is as close as ever.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Consider this: the peace Jesus gives us, and the Holy Spirit He has sent to us, may be one and the same. If you do not feel peace, turn to the Holy Spirit who is with you… “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)


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Your Faith Will Set You Free

[Look, something brought you to this blog post. If it was a mistake—sorry. But if you’d like to see something that is probably more worth your time, please check out the blurb about my soon-to-be-published novel on my new website. It’s basically about seeing a different perspective of Jesus, through the eyes of some background characters in the Bible. New website: cjpenn.com]

The strength of faith can be very inspiring, as in some who are still suffering from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. In a May 3rd article in my local newspaper, written by Becky Bohrer of the Associated Press, a story is told of the financial difficulties of many churches in the New Orleans area.

Basically, because of all the devastation and hardship that still prevails, the collection basket is going hungry. As stated in the article, “Some charitable and faith-based groups fear that local residents, worried about their job security and faced with higher prices for gas and food, may scale back their level of giving.”

Yet there are pockets of bright light shinning amid the darkness. According to the article, “Beverly Meredith, 65 and a retired clerical worker, said she lives on a fixed income in a FEMA trailer. She doesn’t yet have the money to rebuild her home. Still, she faithfully gives 10 percent of her income to the church.” Beverly said, “Times may be hard, but that amount belongs to the Lord.”

After being slammed and left homeless by the hurricane winds, Beverly still gives to God first, and herself last. That’s a tangible show of faith in God; faith that He will provide for her needs, beyond what her portion of her income is able to provide. What might Jesus have to say to someone like Beverly Meredith?

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ ” (Luke 7:50)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Or Jesus might say what Paul was inspired to advise to the Romans, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Or as His brother James had stated, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)

The woman’s show of faith tells of her confidence in God. Being thus armed, what does she have to worry about? Her faith has set her free from the worries that might buckle the knees of a “stronger” person. Maybe real strength doesn’t come from muscles or wisdom. Maybe real strength comes from faith; faith in Jesus Christ.


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Are You Good Enough for Communion?

“New York Cardinal Edward Egan says Rudy Giuliani should not have received Holy Communion during the pope’s visit because he supports abortion rights.” So said the three paragraph blurb in the national section of my local newspaper. Apparently the cardinal and Giuliani had “an understanding”, that Giuliani was no longer to receive communion because of his views. What would Jesus say to this?

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:25) I see no conditions, except for the condition to remember Jesus as we take communion.

Look at what else Paul said to the Corinthians, who perhaps had personal problems far surpassing those of Mr. Giuliani: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-28 ) Did Paul say we need approval from the church before partaking in communion? “A man ought to examine himself…” Whether or not an individual is worthy of taking communion is strictly something between themselves and God, or so it seems to me.

Yet maybe I’m misunderstanding the motives of the Catholic Church. Maybe the issue for them is that Mr. Giuliani has in effect sinned against them, by having views different from the views of the church. Immediately following Jesus’ instructions on how to pray to God, where He told us to ask for forgiveness, “…as we forgive our debtors”, He added: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Or, if the church contests that supporting abortion rights is a sin in God’s eyes, and if those who sin should not take Holy Communion within the Catholic church, then the line up to the alter would be short indeed. “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one'” (Romans 3:10) Again in Galatians 3:22, “But the scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.” If none are without sin, who can take communion?

Yet thanks to the love and grace of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. But are the actions of the Catholic Church implying that Jesus’ atoning death on the cross did not provide for the forgiveness of our sins? Was Jesus’ death for nothing? I don’t believe it. Yet the important thing is: what do you believe?

We are forgiven and there is nothing between us and communion, except maybe the Catholic Church. It’s not your sin Rudy that comes between you and communion with Jesus Christ; it’s the church. Step around the church and embrace your Lord. If he had “examined himself” and found himself worthy, then I applaud Mr. Giuliani for doing what was right, in Gods eyes.


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God Comes Close… Always

At a memorial service a couple of weeks ago, the presiding pastor, in an effort to comfort the mourners, said that God comes closest when we are down. I suspect he may have been reaching out to those in the crowd who are not Christian, who do not have God to lean on in good times and bad. There was something about the message of closeness in times of trouble that didn’t seem right to me. What would Jesus have to say?

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. … But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. … On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. … Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:16, 17b, 20, 23)

For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.” John 3:34, NIV

Does God’s closeness to us truly change with our personal circumstances and emotions? I rather suspect God’s love for us and desire to be near us is not at all affected by anything we might do or feel.

I believe the pastor presiding over the memorial service was correct, in that we tend to feel God’s presence more when we are down. But this is not because God comes closer when we are low. God is always close. We feel His presence more, simply because we may tend to look for Him more when times get tough. He’s here, without limit; all we have to do is look.

As Jesus said, in quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, “Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew, 13:15b). Turn to Jesus; His spirit, the Holy Spirit is right there with you, always.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

(Selections underlined by E.D.)


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Divided We Fall: Episcopal Meltdown

The goings-on in the Episcopal Church are more an example of dysfunction than Christian unity. A recent Associated Press article describes the legal turmoil between the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and “a deposed bishop who led a secession last year prompted by the church’s ordination of women and gays.” It seems the diocese wants to sue the bishop.

Another bishop, loyal to the Episcopal Church, is quoted as saying, “Regardless of the necessity of proceeding with the litigation, the diocese leadership and I remain committed to reconciliation with clergy and parishes that are still trying to understand their relationship with the Episcopal Church.” Yet I wonder, do they understand their relationship with Jesus Christ?

It seems the Episcopal Church is spending so much time bickering amongst themselves, that they have totally forgotten Jesus’ call for unity. What might Jesus say about the conflict within the Episcopal Church, or any conflict within any church?

“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.” (Luke 11:23) Would you say the Episcopal Church is gathering, or scattering?

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) It is not obvious to me that all church leaders are truly disciples of Jesus; I just don’t see the love. People can disagree and still have love.

I would like to end this post with Jesus’ prayer to His Father, for all believers:

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)


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New Orleans Freak Show?

Today, on our regular Saturday morning phone call, my mom told me a story about some friends of hers who recently took a trip to New Orleans. While there, they looked into taking a tour of one of the more hurricane-devastated areas. At the tour office they witnessed a bus returning from such a tour, accompanied by two police cars and I believe one or two motorcycle police. Was this tour going into some kind of war zone? My mom’s friends quickly gave up on the tour idea.

What broke my heart about this story was not the apparent need for police to make sure the tour bus made it back safely, but the idea of the tour itself. Are the ravaged areas of New Orleans some sort of circus freak show, where people find some morbid sense of entertainment by seeing sights they could barely imaging? I hope the motives are nobler than that.

I wonder; what would Jesus have done if faced with the reality of the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina? Would He have opted for the tour bus ride? What follows is a message of the truth of the compassion of Jesus Christ.

There is a story in the gospel of Luke, about a man suffering from leprosy. Who knows how long he’d had the disease, but we know from historical accounts that those who were afflicted with leprosy were considered total outcasts. They were not allowed contact with other people, except for those with the same affliction. There was a fear that a mere touch would serve to transmit the disease. And so this man, covered with the soars of the nerve-killing illness, had not touched or been touched by another human being for perhaps several years. He had not been hugged, no hand had touched his, no arm had gone around his shoulders in a moment of comfort.

Until Jesus came along. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The man had the faith, yet his sense of kindness in others had been lost in the years of isolation. “…if you are willing”; he doubted not Jesus’ ability, only His willingness to be kind. It had been that long since this man had experienced a compassionate act. What did Jesus do next? We know from other stories that He could have healed him right off. Yet Jesus did something better. He first gave the man what he needed most. Out of love and compassion, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” For the first time in perhaps years, another person reached out and touched this lonely, leprous human being.

I suspect that was not at all what the man expected. And in the midst of the emotion that may have begun to well up inside of him, Jesus then said, “I am willing. Be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him.

This is a story about the truth of the compassion of Jesus Christ. We would all do well to take it to heart and follow Jesus’ lead. When confronted with need, don’t just stare; reach out and give a hand.

Please read this story for yourself, in Luke chapter 5, verses 12-16.


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Do not call anyone on earth “father”

In a recent article in the Washington Post, about the Pope and his visit to the US, several statements caught my attention, but there is one in particular that I would like to focus on today.

The author, a Presbyterian Pastor, refers to the Pope as “Holy Father”. No big deal; a common title for the head of the Catholic Church. Yet, what would Jesus say about calling the Pope “Holy Father”?

“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9, NIV)

There’s no need to expand on what Jesus said. His instruction is simple and clear. Yet I cannot help but wonder how many Catholics are aware of this verse, and if they are, what do they think about it. If you are Catholic, please honor Jesus and pray with Him about what He has told us here.

I also challenge the Presbyterian Pastor who wrote the article, and all others who nonchalantly call the Pope and Catholic Priests “father”, to think about what Jesus is telling us. And how about you? Please do not take Jesus’ words lightly.

There are those in the Catholic Church who will have you call them “father”, yet as Peter had said to the Sanhedrin, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.” (Acts 4:19, NIV)

One final thought: why did Jesus feel compelled to state that we are to call no one else father? Could it be Jesus knew that because of our sinful nature, which is rooted in pride, people would seek to elevate their status and perhaps even make themselves equal to God, or at least make themselves above others? Sounds to me like Jesus might be telling us we are all equal, in His sight, and that none are to be elevated above others. There is only one who is above us; God the one and only Father.

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September 9th, 2008: If you like, you will find a follow-up to this post at “Jesus, do you really mean it?”


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How Would Jesus Pray?

Being on the prayer chain at the church I attend, when someone in the church requests prayer, their request will somehow find its way to me and many others, typically via email. The other day I received an email prayer request asking for prayers for a young woman who was very ill. We were requested to, “Pray for correct diagnosis and treatment as indicated. Healing would be nice.”

“Healing would be nice” – tacked on, almost as an afterthought. It struck me; if Jesus were to email out a prayer request, would he say, “Healing would be nice”? How might Jesus have prayed for this young woman? Jesus who told us:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10, NIV)

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22, NIV)

“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:14, NIV)

I began to also wonder about my motives when praying, and my faith. Do I really want this young woman to be healed? I don’t even know her. Do I really believe that God can heal her? Why would I ask for something, if I have doubts in God’s ability or desire to even consider answering my request? Am I taking Jesus at His word? Do I really believe His words I have just typed?

If it were my daughter who were seriously ill, or me, would I be timid in my prayers, just thinking that healing would be nice? I ask you today to consider two things: your faith and your sincerity in prayer. Jesus commanded us to love each other as we love ourselves. Might He also have said to pray for each other as we pray for ourselves?

It has been said that the sincerest expression of love for someone is to give to them what is most precious to us. What is more precious than our time and attention? Love your neighbor as you love yourself; show your love by giving them your time and attention, in prayer to God. Go to God on behalf of your neighbor, praying as if praying for yourself. Whether your “neighbor” is family, friend, or the oppressed in a country near or far away; focus your attention on who you wish to pray for, put yourself in their place, and pray for them as if praying for yourself.

On this May 1st, our national day of prayer, and the first day in the ten days of global prayer leading up to Pentecost, please take stock of how you pray. Do you pray as Jesus instructed? Do you believe what Jesus tells us about prayer? Do you pray for others as if praying for yourself? Ask and you will receive. Be bold.

If you are interested, check out the National Day of Prayer web site at: www.ndptf.org