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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Done with Church

Here’s a brief and interesting post I just came across…

JLP Pastor

Over at Scot McKnight’s blog, the first of a planned series of excerpts from Church Refugees, a book about “dechurched” people. Not marginal attenders or cynics, they were the kind of high-involvement people every church wants to have. But along the way the church converted them, and they went from from enthusiastic church folks to “done with religion.”

We call these people the dechurched or the Dones: They’re done with church. They’re tired and fed up with church. They’re dissatisfied with the structure, social message, and politics of the institutional church, and they’ve decided they and their spiritual lives are better off lived outside of organized religion.

Here’s an example from one such “Done” called Ethan:

when we finally left the church, we’ve just done house church where we create and do things with, others rather than for them. I’m done with the top-down, institutional church. I thought…

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Book Challenge Day #13 – Out of Focus

Out of focus

Work has been crazy busy. Yet my self-imposed challenge to write and publish a book in three months is still standing tall right in front of me. In my minds eye this project sometimes appears as a large person scowling at me, with their arms crossed and boldly proclaiming, “I’m waiting!”

Though this book is gradually growing within my mind and on the pages of my notebook, it’s often out of focus. My sites are mostly set on other things, like work. Work is demanding and ever hungry for all my time and thought… 24/7. So I have to fend off works hunger just to pry my gaze away long enough to let my mind focus on the book.

I get mini moments with the book. Just a few minutes at a time, it seems. But God is so good to me, because He honors my brief moments of focus and fills those seconds with more of the book – from His heart, to my mind, to my notebook. And I’m so grateful.


(July 29, 2015: day 12 down, 81 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)


Book Challenge Day #12 – As the story pours onto the page

clay pots pouring water

For the fiction book I’m trying to write and publish in 3 months, a couple of days ago I dictated the essence of chapter 2 into the memo app of my iPhone. This morning I worked on transcribing those notes into my notebook, and converting them into more of a story. BTW, I enjoy handwriting rather than typing directly. I read somewhere that handwriting uses more of the creative portion of your brain than typing, and thereby can add to the creative output. I’ll type my handwritten draft later.

Well, I don’t know much about how to activate the creative portion of my brain (other than a glass of wine or beer in the evening), but this morning the story of chapter 2 seemed to pour out of my mind and onto the pages. I would listen to a snippet of my notes, and then while focusing my thoughts on the Spirit of Jesus within me, the words began flowing down my arm, out my fingers, into the pencil and onto the paper. I so enjoy this part of writing, this free-flowing creative part, especially when I’m not writing alone, but collaborating with Jesus.

Is He really guiding my hand? I believe so. I almost feel it. Maybe not with every word. But when I look back at what’s been written, I’m convinced it’s not all from me. It’s too good to come from me.


(July 28, 2015: day 11 down, 82 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)

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Book Challenge Day #11 – This is not my book project

ghost writer

I’m writing this post just to remind myself this is not my book challenge project. As I believe the idea came from the Spirit of Jesus within, I want to remember not to try to wrestle control from Him. My ego, of course, will want control. My ego will want to make a certain amount of progress each day, gain a certain number of new followers interested in the challenge, and make sure the book is actually published by the October 17th deadline.

But I must remember, this is not my book project. It’s God’s. The daily progress isn’t important. The number of people who follow the project isn’t important (though the people themselves are very important – I just felt like adding that), and the deadline isn’t important.

What’s important with how I deal with this book challenge is the same thing that’s most important with the everyday challenge of dealing with life… my focus on God. As long as I keep my heart, mind, and soul focused on God within me, all is just right. The book challenge is not my purpose; it’s just an outcome of my purpose, which is to live with the Spirit of Jesus living through me.


(July 27, 2015: day 10 down, 83 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)

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Book Challenge Day #9 – Talking Through Chapter Two

Day 8 of my personal writing challenge turned out better than I could have wished. After having written chapter one in the morning, I wrote chapter two on my drive home from work in the evening.

Actually, I spoke chapter two into the voice memo app on my iPhone. As I was pulling onto the freeway, a clear picture of chapter two started painting itself in my mind. Rapidly, the picture became vivid and complete. Yet I worried about my crumby memory. How was I going to remember all this by the time I got home and could write it down?

Well, the Friday evening commute traffic gave me a “break.” While in the middle of a solid stop that lasted almost a minute, I safely activated the voice memo app, set my phone down and started dictating the picture of chapter two that was fresh in my mind.

When I had emptied my mind of chapter two, I turned my thoughts to God, and gave Him big thanks for making this so easy for me. I know chapter two is from Him, because I don’t have the talent to come up with something that looks so good.


(July 25, 2015: day 8 down, 85 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)

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Book Challenge Day #8 – Follow the Bouncing Ball

bouncing balls

The only time I have to write is early morning, yet it can be the worst time. My mind is so scattered in the morning. Oh, things begin to come into focus as the coffee takes hold, but my mind still tends to bounce from one thought to another, just more slowly. It’s like a super-ball hurled to the garage floor, bouncing around so fast it’s hard to keep your eyes on it, but slowing a bit over time. Such is my morning mind.

Well, the coffee cup is empty now. My mind is able to spend more time focused on the loving Spirit of Jesus within me. And He’s helping me, tugging on my thoughts, keeping them from bouncing too far away again. So now I’ll open my notebook and see what grows out of my pen. Will there be progress with my book challenge this morning? Stay tuned…


… I’m back, an hour later. It’s amazing what can happen when I step on the bouncing ball of my thoughts and focus on Jesus. I just finished the first draft of the first chapter. And though it’s still rough, I like the tone that’s being set.

It always happens this way when I’m writing. The best stuff grows out of my pen and crawls across the pages of my notebook only when my thoughts are set on Jesus within me, when He is writing with me. And I’m so grateful.


(July 24, 2015: day 7 down, 86 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)

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The Barrier of Life

Prison wall

Life often feels like a barrier between God and me.

The distractions that battle for my attention block my view of Jesus.

Even though His Spirit is always here with me,

within me, so close to me …

I often cannot see Him or feel His presence.

Life is ever hungry, craving every thought.

Yet I’m hungry too.

I hunger and thirst for Jesus,

for a sense of His companionship,

His presence.

I’m sometimes torn in two.

Part of me despises life and it’s struggle for my full attention,

it’s battle against my love of Jesus.

But the other part of me is so grateful for life.

I cannot fully appreciate something unless I’ve first lived without it.

Yes, for now life is a barrier between God and me.

But when that barrier is gone, and my fuzzy view of Jesus comes into bright focus,

my heart will burst with love and gratitude.

And my dammed up tears of joy will finally flow as a river.

This mortal life and all it’s struggles,

will help me appreciate life with God so much more.

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The Church’s Hidden Back Door

Holy Soup

Beef up outreach. Emphasize evangelism. Plant more churches. Polish the marketing.

None of this is reversing the overall trend of church decline. Even when a church attracts new members it doesn’t grow. Why?

It can’t add people fast enough to make up for the legions slipping out the back door.

They are the Dones–those who are done with organized church. New research reveals the enormity of the back-door effect. Sociologist Josh Packard, as a follow-up to his book Church Refugees, conducted a new national study through the Social Research Lab to determine the size, make-up and motivations of the formerly churched population in the United States.

The survey results are stunning. Some 31 percent of the entire U.S. adult population was once churched and now has dropped out and disconnected from any organized church. That’s a population of 65 million adults.

With that kind of exodus, it’s difficult for any…

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Book Challenge Day #6 – Still on the Foundation

ghost writer

I made some good progress this morning on the foundation of my 3-month-to-publish book idea. The story is historical fiction, writing in a first-person narrative style. The outline is almost finished, with the flow of the story and the chapters defined.

My progress this morning started with a prayer. As with most of my mornings, it can be hard to clear my cluttered head of the junk that fills my life, and focus my mind on the Spirit of Jesus within me. But for some reason, this morning was easier. I think it was because I felt frustrated with myself, and my own cluttered mind. So I mentally grabbed a large broom and vigorously swept all that clutter out of the way so I could clearly see Jesus. And it worked.

Oh how I cherish those moments when I feel really close to Jesus, within me. I found such a moment this morning. And in that moment, Jesus gave me an image of what I could do with the book idea. So I opened my eyes and started writing. And I’ll start all over again tomorrow morning.


(July 22, 2015: day 6 down, 88 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)

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Book Challenge Day #5 – Fuzzy

ghost writer

Day 4 (yesterday) was lost to my busyness. No progress. Barely a thought given to this book I’m trying to write and publish in 3 months.

Day 5 is starting with a fuzzy mind. Yet there is progress this morning. I’ve loosely defined all the chapters. The outline is beginning to firm up. Yet I’m feeling itchy to actually start writing.

By the way, most of my progress will happen in the mornings. With my full-time job, the early morning is the only writing time I have. And evenings are usually sacrificed to fatigue from a busy day. My shortage of available writing time adds to the challenge.

But since I’m convinced that God gave me this book idea, I have faith that He will see this book get written. Will it be published within 3 months, according to the personal challenge I’ve given myself? I would like to give that one to God, and not be concerned about it. But I won’t fool myself – I’m sure there are days ahead of me when I will severely stress about my self-imposed deadline. Yet this is just another reason to rely on God to help write this book.


(July 21, 2015: day 4 down, 89 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)

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Book Challenge Day #3 – Stressed

Currently in a hotel room, going to a wedding this evening. And this is my first post thumbed out on my iPhone. So please pardon the typos.

A crazy full weekend. But that’s not really the source of the stress I’m referring to in the title of this post. Yet it’s a factor. You see, God keeps painting a panoramic picture of the book He’s inspired me to write. Even the details are coming clearly into focus. And some of the dialog as well.

Anyway, my stress is coming from the fact that this weekend I have no time to do anything with all these images and ideas filling my head. And as is my nature, I tend to be impatient. With so much of the book so clearly shown to me, I want to start writing it now!

Patience CJ. And thank you so much Lord for overwhelming me with your generous gift of this exciting and challenging book project.

See ya tomorrow. CJ

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Book Challenge Day #2 – The Wanderer

ghost writer

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I took on the challenge to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in three months. My head is spinning with ideas. Yesterday was wild – on my drive to work in the morning, I actually abandoned my original book idea for another idea.

I was praying my way down the highway – praying that some sleepy commuter doesn’t rear-end me, as I often do, yet also praying about the book idea I had originally come up with. Then, in an instant, a new and very fresh idea started rapidly growing in my mind. By the time I got to work I had a general outline all figured out. I even had the last chapter written, in my head. And I have a title – The Wanderer. I parked my car, quickly scribbled some notes, and reluctantly walked into work, glad as always that it was Friday.

Usually on a Friday evening, my exhausted drive home is filled with thoughts of that first beer or glass of wine that waits for me. But not yesterday. The book seemed to be writing itself within my head. Filled with unusual energy, I first went swimming – the only form of exercise that doesn’t hurt my often achy, aging body. More ideas flooded into my mind as I swam. More scribbled notes in the car before finally driving home from the fitness club.

God was really speaking to me yesterday, clearly outlining this next book He wants me to write. I think He’s enjoying this as much as I am.


(July 18, 2015: day 1 down, 92 more to go, of The Challenge… to write a book, from concept to self-publish, in 3 months.)


Book Challenge – Day #1

ghost writer

Challenge to self: write and self-publish a book within three months. This isn’t a new idea for me, but while checking out many of the presentations at the on-going Self-Publishing Success Summit, I finally felt energy growing within me… let’s do it.

So this morning, right after getting out of bed, I started talking with God, asking Him for ideas. What would He like me to write about that could be contained in a short, maybe 20,000-word book? I so love writing with God, because He’s always there for me. I think He loves writing too, for it’s another way He can communicate with His children. Even before I started making coffee, an idea started coming into focus. And half-way through that first cup of coffee, I started drawing a mind-map with the ideas that were coming into my still-dreamy head. And now, the whole story is laid out before me.

I think God has a sense of humor, because the idea he gave me is a fiction story. Yet all my experience is writing non-fiction. To pull this off, I’ll have to dig deep into my past, when I was a young kid who loved to make up stories. I’m excited.

Anyway, if you’re interested in following my progress with this challenge, check back once in awhile. I’ll try to share the experience. October 17th, 2015 … wish me luck.

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Wading Through the Rubble of my Mind

cluttered mind

Each morning, with coffee in hand, I take my precious quiet time and seek God, within me. I sit in my rustic garage corner-office/storage-room, sometimes reading the daily devotional in Jesus Calling, sometimes reading my bible, but always trying to focus my mind on Jesus and God.

Yet, every morning before I can find my way to God, I need to wade my way through the trash and rubble that clogs my mind. I need to clear a path to God, through thoughts about work, home projects, personal challenges, and often-meaningless distractions. Some mornings, my minds rubble piles up high and deep, and it can be rough going, bouncing from one distraction to the next. But if I patiently keep digging, I eventually break through the rubble and … there’s God, always waiting for me.

And I’m so grateful.

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I Can’t Trust Myself

trust myself - cant

Yesterday I wrote a post where I used a story a friend had told me. But I made a mistake in that in citing the story, I got the facts wrong. And I got them wrong in a way that hurt my close friend. I’ve been thinking and praying a lot about this since yesterday. It all reminds me that I can’t always trust myself. I can’t trust my thoughts, my ideas, my mind. Left to myself, too often I’ll get something wrong.

This morning, while praying about this and asking Jesus to help me, He gently reminded me to just trust Him. As Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1) It occurred to me that He didn’t say, “Trust yourself; trust also in God and me.” Jesus is telling me to put all my trust in Him and our Father. He’s telling me to put no trust in myself. I like this – it makes me feel better.

As I can’t trust myself and my own mind, my hearts desire is to surrender my mind to the Spirit of Jesus within me, and let Him control my thoughts, my ideas, and my mind. It’s definitely not easy, especially for me. But there’s a promise along the path of this journey of surrendering my mind to Jesus. As Paul said, “… the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

And I’m so grateful.

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Catholic vs. Catholic vs. Protestant vs. Baptist vs. Presbyterian

[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]

comparing churches

My friend had just been to a potluck dinner, the house filled with good food and great friends. Everyone attended the same church. As the evening progressed, little discussion groups started forming. As my friend later told me, the discussions in each group all followed a similar theme.

One group was comparing Roman Catholicism to Anglican Catholicism. The second group was comparing Catholicism to Protestantism. The third group was comparing the Baptist Church to the Presbyterian Church. Heavy stuff, especially compared to things I usually talk about at a dinner party.

Each discussion was comparing different forms of the Christian Church. But no one was talking about the real Church. No one was talking about Jesus. No one was talking about the Spirit of Jesus living within those who believe. That’s the real Church… the Holy Spirit within you. And no one was talking about that.

My reaction is sadness. I think Jesus and His true Church deserve more attention. Am I making too big a deal out of this? Maybe. What do you think?

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I Need More Than Coffee

coffee cup

Morning coffee,

as strong as I can make it without the grounds spilling out of the basket.

Just enough milk to smooth out the bitter, but not dilute the strong flavor.

My mind slowly wakes and comes into focus.

But it’s not enough.

Today, everyday, I need more than coffee.

The coffee clears my mind.

But my soul, my feelings, still feel fuzzy and confused.

I feel a bit dark, though not like my coffee – that’s a good dark.

I feel a bit bleak, a little depressed, slightly purposeless.

Coffee alone doesn’t help.

I need God.

It’s hard to sweep away the clouds and distractions of life.

It’s hard to sometimes see God through the clutter in my mind.

But He’s there, just beyond the clutter, always waiting for me.

It takes time, it takes emptiness, it takes some sweeping of my mind to see God.

Yet when I wade my way though my messy thoughts,

and put the stuff of life behind me,

God greets me with a warm bear hug.

He hugs my soul. And the clouds lift.

There is no better way to start the day.

And I’m so grateful.


Heaven on Earth

heaven on earth

The other day I wrote about Hell within the Church (see it here). Much of life down here in this pain-filled pit of humanity can often feel like hell. But we’re not alone down here in this pit. Even while up to our knees in muck, we can find joy from within. We can find heaven down here in this pit of daily suffering.

Heaven on Earth – paradise in the middle of our mortal turmoil is available to all. And you can find heaven right inside yourself; it’s the Holy Spirit living within you. Heaven is the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus, sharing this life with you. And this relationship is available to all of us. This is THE truth that will set you free.

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Same-sex Marriage – Allowed by God

Supreme court gay marriage

My opinion about same-sex marriage has no meaning and doesn’t matter. But since I’ve posted some thoughts that attracted a little attention (see it here), I feel the need to add some clarification about my beliefs and opinion.

First: God’s opinion is what counts in my life, far more than my opinion. And God’s opinion is that same-sex marriage, and homosexuality, is wrong. Just like all sins. In God’s eyes, the only difference between a homosexual and me is the nature of our sins.

Second: no matter what God thinks about homosexuality as a life style, He still loves homosexuals as people. Just like all sinners.

Third: just because God loves homosexuals, doesn’t mean that God will save homosexuals and bring them to heaven in the end. Like all us sinners, salvation requires we have true faith in God and Jesus and that we repent of our sins (i.e., express sincere sorrow for our sins and ask for forgiveness). And homosexuals have the same ability to have faith and repent as I do. For just because we believe and repent does not mean that we magically stop sinning. My life is proof of that.

Finally: regarding the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage, though I don’t think it is the Supreme Court’s responsibility to make such decisions, I also don’t think it’s any of our responsibilities to deny freedom of choice. God has given us all the freedom to make our own decisions about how we will live our lives. If someone decides that they are in their heart a homosexual, and they fall in love with someone of the same sex and, like most people truly in love, they want to get married – well, I don’t think any of us other sinners have the right to take that freedom of choice away from them.

Yet again, though God gives us freedom of choice, allowing for things like same-sex marriage, He still does not condone such acts. This tells us a lot about God – our compassionate and understanding parent.