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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Dear God

[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]

dear God

 

I just started reading “The Good and Beautiful Life,” by James Bryan Smith. Chapter One invited me to write a letter to God, describing the kind of life I want to live. Here is my letter.

Dear God,

The life I want most for myself is a life of You living through me. I desire with all my heart that when others look at me, they see You. I desire never to do or say something that you wouldn’t do or say. I desire to live with honor, integrity, compassion, humility, forgiveness, understanding, and true love toward all who come into my life. I desire to be a true image of You. Thank you dear Lord.


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Forgiveness or Misery

scale

It takes humility to really forgive, to take your eyes off your SELF long enough to waive goodbye to the hurt. I found myself thinking about forgiveness yesterday – don’t know why. I guess I was just struck with the thought that everyone needs forgiveness of something. And it seems like there’s not enough humility to counter the hurtful acts needing forgiveness.

Then this new thought crashed into my Sunday-slumbering mind: humanity, by our sinful and prideful human nature, is all messed up. It’s just part of who we are. Therefore, by our nature, we will all hurt others, intentionally or not. And we will all create a need for forgiveness.

Then this thought hit me: for those who cannot learn to forgive others, they are doomed to a life of unforgiving misery, for there will ALWAYS be hurt needing forgiveness.

Maybe look at it this way: visualize an old-fashioned scale with the cross-arm and a bowl hanging off each end. In one bowl are all the hurtful acts that need forgiveness. In the other bowl is our capacity to forgive. The hurtful bowl is overflowing – again, it’s just who we are as humans. The forgiveness bowl is often nearly empty. Our life is out of balance, unless we are able to increase our capacity to forgive.

God can give us that capacity, if we desire. God can show us the futility of holding a grudge, since humanity will always create hurt. God can bring balance to our life.


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Love on the Cross

love on cross

See Him hanging on the cross. Ragged. Beaten. Dying. Willingly surrendering to ravenous sin. Only moments left now. Father, where are you? I can’t see you anymore. My heart is bursting with pain – Father, the pain of separation is overpowering.

It is finished. Father and Son are no longer one. No longer together. Ripped apart by the evil of sin, the sin of the world. Father held out His Son, giving Him to sin as payment, willingly letting go of His dearly loved one.

This is love… for you and me.

There are three true powers in the world: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. Love never fails. Love concurred sin. Open your heart and feel His love… for you.


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The Final Draft

final draft

When will I ever be finished with the book I’m writing? Which revision will be the final draft? I’m working on rev 9, and I know for sure there will be a rev 10. I recently wrote about my anguish and impatience (see it here). Since I’m a tinkerer, I sometimes fear that I will never be finished, that I will keep tweaking the book, always looking for ways to make it better. In the engineering world of which I work, there is a saying: there comes a time in every project to shoot the designer and release the product. Am I going to have to shoot myself in order to settle for a final draft?

This morning I found myself praying about trusting God. And this is what came into my mind: I don’t have to worry about the final draft. Since in my effort to write this book all I’m trying to do is be Gods pen, with Him the author, the final draft is up to Him. He will decide which draft is final, and He will make it clear to me. In fact, He already has. All I have to do is trust Him. And I do. Thank you Lord.


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Heaven is for Real?

I watched the movie, “Heaven is for Real” last night. I had read the book, but that was a few years ago. What hit me in the face from the movie was the struggle the pastor dad went through… his struggle when faced with compelling evidence for the existence of heaven. Such evidence can really have you questioning your faith, for you would then need to decide whether to accept or reject the evidence – which is to accept or reject everything you believe about God.

After the movie, I started questioning my own beliefs. If faced with similar evidence, how would I react? Is my faith strong enough to excitedly accept such evidence? I think so, but I don’t feel safe in assuming so. I guess I’m just not certain. It’s weird. I feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, even as I write these words. But that’s based on faith, which is believing in things despite the lack of evidence. What happens to our faith when faced with undisputable evidence? The thought is scary to me.

Yet I see evidence of God all the time, as long as I have my eyes and mind open. I’m confused. Sorry for the weird post – it just felt right to put it up on the site. I hope you all have a great day.

CJ


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Why Surrender?

surrender

Life has worn me down. Life has stressed me out. Worry assaults me. So I surrender.

I am tired. Life is too hard. I can’t handle it on my own. So I surrender.

My mind holds me captive to judgment, worry, fear, anger, impatience, selfishness. So I surrender.

He gave His life for mine. He surrendered His life for me. So I surrender to Him.

Why surrender? Because I love Him. I wish my love came for free. But He paid a high price, the highest. It took that price to buy my love. Yes, I feel ashamed. But His love is overpowering my shame. The dark shadow of my shame vanishes under the brilliant light of His love. All that is left is love. And with all my love, I surrender to you dear Jesus.

With all my heart,

CJ Penn


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The Judge within Me

do not judge

“Do not judge.” This order is scattered throughout the bible. Yet Christians have a reputation for being judgmental. Look, it’s who we are as humans, like part of our DNA. I’m not sometimes judgmental because I’m Christian, but because I’m human. And because of my ever-growing love for God and Jesus, I usually come down hard on myself when I discover I’m judging others. Sometimes I make myself miserable with guilt.

But wait, where does guilt come from? It comes from a judgment. I judge myself guilty… in this case, guilty of being judgmental.

In a recent blog-conversation I had with someone about Scary Christians, this thought occurred to me: as we shouldn’t judge others, we should not judge ourselves.

Instead of focusing on ourselves, the cure for being judgmental is to focus more on the Holy Spirit within. Do not judge… yourself. Leave guilt behind and look instead to the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus within you. And He will set you free.


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My Ghost Writer

ghost writer

He did it again… my ghost writer. I’m working on revision 9 of a book I’m collaborating on with my ghost writer friend. Yesterday I finished marking up chapter 20 with more fine-tuning changes (part of what sometimes feels like my never-ending editing process). This morning I got up at 4:00am, as usual, to get in some writing before heading to work. I had intended to start editing chapter 21. But as I got out of bed, the thought became clear that I needed to go back and take another look at chapter 20. My ghost writer was talking to me again.

Got my coffee and settled myself in my makeshift “office” (a walled-off corner in the garage), and while letting the coffee cup warm my hands, I prayed, as usual. This thought came clearly into my mind: there was a glaring problem buried within chapter 20 that I needed to uncover and fix. My ghost writer, the Holy Spirit of God within me, was making my task for this morning clear.

And sure enough, as I read my way through chapter 20, I turned a page and there was the problem – a couple of unclear and awkward paragraphs. And the whole section looked a lot better with those paragraphs crossed out.

This is the way it goes, writing with the Holy Ghost. Is God really speaking to me, giving me direction on how to write this book? Well, the answer depends on what you believe. For me, I certainly believe so. And I’m so grateful. Thank you God.


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The Shark within Me

shark

Ever circling. Lidless eyes, ever searching. Jagged teeth, ever ready to devour innocence. Ever within me, part of me, torturing me. Ever my ego, my pride, my self, my shark.

My ego is the shark within me, always searching for something to capture and make its own. For example, since I started posting again on this blog after taking a long break, my ego has become intoxicated over things like number of page views and number of followers. I keep telling my “self” that none of that matters, but I often lose the argument.

Whenever I win the argument, it’s because I walk away from the argument. I win when I ignore my yammering ego and instead focus on the Holy Spirit within me. The shark has no chance against the Spirit. Dear Jesus, thank you.


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Scary Christians

scary Christians

I’ve commented on a couple of blogs recently, where the topic was Christians who scare others away from Christianity by their behavior – judgmental, hypocritical, arrogant, etc. I agree that the biggest hindrance to Christianity is Christians. And I relate to something Ghandi once said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.” Yet the truth is, none of us is like Christ. Some get close, but none lives the completely humble and love-filled life Jesus lived.

I can be quick to criticize ugly Christians. But that just brings me closer to their level. And the truth is, we are all broken humans, with a human nature that is so unlike Christ. For our nature is filled with pride and selfishness, some more full of themselves than others. But it’s who we are as humans. For me to criticize ugly Christians is hypocrisy.

Might an ugly Christian be a sign that the person doesn’t know Jesus very well? Could be. But who am I to judge?

By the way, most Christians I know are not very scary. Except maybe for my friend who is a Third Day* groupie, chasing their concerts all over the country. Happy Birthday dawg.

*Third Day = Christian rock band

(btw, my Third Day groupie friend isn’t scary in the context mentioned in this post. His friends just like to tease him because of his obsession.)


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Faith Journey – My feet are tired but my soul is on fire

faith journey

It’s a worn out phrase, “faith journey,” but it’s accurate. It’s been a long, hard struggle for me, at times. Often I’m trudging along, with my eyes focused on the path ahead, ever vigilant for obstacles. There can be big boulders, some so large I have to climb over them. Like my prideful selfishness. It just keeps getting in my way.

Sometimes I get tired of this journey, ever looking out for and dodging potholes and roadblocks. Sometimes I just want to step off the path, set up camp, and crash for a while. But then I look up, and there ahead is my goal, always bright and visible. Jesus is right there, forever in front of me, encouraging me onward. His love is so powerful. It gets me back on my feet and moving again. Almost like a magnetic force, pulling me onward. When my feet get tired, Jesus’ love lights the fire in my soul, and gives me all the energy I need.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)


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Not Alone in the Trials

Not alone in the trials

My last trial found me very afraid, at first. The threat of prostrate cancer hit me in the face. Yet very quickly I found myself leaving the fear, and embracing excitement. For I knew I wasn’t alone. The Holy Spirit of God is within me, and He was sharing the experience with me. And the prospect of cancer began to look like an adventure. I found myself giggling because my reaction was the opposite of what I had first expected. Then tears of joy, for I was experiencing the promise of the peace that goes beyond my capability to understand. The verse that filled my thoughts was, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

None of us need be alone in the trials.

(btw, turned out not to be cancer)


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Growing your love for God

We love because God loves

I recently met someone who said they are concerned about their love for God. They feel theirs is a conditional love, one that changes as circumstances change. They’re not happy about it; they wish their love for God were stronger. This got me thinking, how do we nurture our love for God and help it grow beyond the conditional phase, to a true, unconditional love?

When I met my wife, I was immediately attracted to her. The more we came to know each other, the more I loved her. But my love for her was conditional, initially. I have to admit that it took time for my love to grow into a true, unconditional love. Yet, what fed our love and helped it grow bigger and stronger? For me it was two simple things: our ever-growing closeness and relationship, and the knowledge of the love she felt for me.

What will feed your love for God? Your ever-growing closeness and relationship with Him, and an understanding of the magnitude of Gods love for you. God loves you without conditions. Nothing you do can diminish His love for you. The more you come to feel the reality of Gods love for you, the more you will love Him. You will love, because He first loves you.


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God so loves the world…

crying

… that he GAVE his one and only Son. Such is the magnitude of Gods love. Father and Son had been together for eternity. Then God held out his dearly loved child, and sin snatched the Son away and nailed him to the cross. Imagine the pain of a parent watching a child suffer (I’m sorry for those of you who know this pain).

Jesus was not the only one who suffered on the cross. God suffered too – all because of His love for us.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)


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Does God love only good people?

Gods love

As usual, Tom sat quietly during the first part of our small group bible study, just listening and thinking. Eventually, Tom would start talking, and what he had to say was always well thought-out, inspiring, and intriguing. I looked forward to the moment when Tom decided to join the conversation. But on this night I found myself not ready for what he had to say. “I just know I’m not going to heaven. I’ve done too many bad things in my life. God can’t love me. I’m just not good enough.”

Tom is a victim of a scam of guilt promoted by some churches. Tom and others like him have difficulty in believing that God can in fact love them; they just don’t feel good enough. Does God love only good people?

First, the “goodness” Tom believes he lacks does not come from past behavior, but from faith: “This righteousness (goodness) from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:22-23) It’s not the amount of goodness or badness that matters – it’s what you believe.

God doesn’t care about our past; He cares about now. No matter how dark your past may be, where are you now? Do you feel distressed about past sins? Do you wish you could erase the sins of yesterday, and resist the sins of today? I know Tom does; he said so. To such a show of repentance Jesus would say, “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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Is Relevance Relevant?

relevance

Many Christians believe that making the gospel relevant for our times will attract people to the church. Trying to “meet people where they live” is just what Jesus did, so this should be a good approach. Yet, judging by the dwindling numbers of those attending church, there must be something wrong with the drive for relevance.

The flaw of the relevance approach is when they change the message to meet the needs of the day. This takes the focus off the truth of Jesus. His message is eternal, in that it always meets the needs of the day, no matter what day it is. We always need love, always need faith, and always need hope. This is what Jesus has to offer, and it’s always relevant.

What people need is not a customized message for the day, which will loose power as conditions change. It’s not relevance that’s needed, but truth.


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Opening Your Mind

open mind

After Jesus was crucified and came back to life, his disciples had a hard time believing what they were seeing. They thought he was a ghost, still dead. They saw with their eyes, yet still did not understand. Don’t be surprised if you have difficulty understanding what you read in the bible, for even eyewitnesses had trouble.

Yet, as Jesus did for His disciples, He can do for us…“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45) Understanding does not come from our own intellect, cleverness, or imaginations. Understanding comes from only one source, the Holy Spirit. “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” (1 Corinthians 2:12)

If you are willing, the Holy Spirit can open your mind and show you the truth. As Jesus said, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12-13)


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Son of Man

son of man

Jesus frequently called himself the “Son of man.” I was reminded of this while listening to a Third Day song on the way to work yesterday. And I began to wonder why He chose that title above others.

Why did Jesus seem to feel it was important to stress His humanity? Yes, Jesus is fully God, but He was also fully human. And it seems like He almost took pride in His humanity. Being one of us was important to Jesus. But why? I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday, all the time with the sense that the answer to my question was right at the edge of my mind, just barely out of reach of my consciousness.

Well, this morning I’ve been able to quiet my mind and pray, asking Jesus to give me the answer. Though I think the complete answer is still not clear to me, I do believe I see Jesus’ main reason for stressing His humanity. It’s love. Jesus loves us humans so much that He also loved being one of us.

That’s another thing that definitely sets Jesus apart from me – though He seemed to cherish His humanity, I am often pained by my humanity.

But what do you think about Jesus calling Himself “Son of man?”


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Writing with God

with God

Look, I’m not a trained writer. I don’t often know what I’m doing. But maybe that’s good, because the less I know, the more I rely on God.

It’s often hard for me to believe I’m writing a book. I mean, this thing is almost done, and it actually has a decent structure and is readable. For someone who never learned grammar in high school, it’s weird for me to look at this book and realize it came from my own hands.

But it’s not totally mine. This book is actually the product of prayer. I look to God in prayer, and the words for the book come into my mind. Are the words really from God or from me? I don’t know. I just know I couldn’t have done this without His help. He’s always there for me – just a thought away.

Thank you Lord.