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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Message to Atheists – what if I’m wrong?

I believe in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. But what if I’m wrong? What if I come to the end of my life and discover it was all a lie? What if the end is truly the end; no benevolent Father in heaven, no heaven, no after-life? What a drag that would be. All this effort to believe, worship and follow – all for nothing.

But would it really be for nothing? This morning I started wondering how I might feel if I discovered it were indeed all a lie. Since I was agnostic up to my late 30’s and an atheist during part of those earlier years, I had a baseline for evaluating how my faith has affected my life. What did that faith do to me? How did that faith change me; the faith that I was now considering as possibly based on a lie?

Here are some of the changes that faith has made in my life:

  • I don’t swear like I used to.
  • I don’t lie like I used to.
  • I’m not as arrogant as I used to be. I’m much more humble.
  • I’m willing to acknowledge when I’m wrong, instead of trying to blame someone or something else (I used to do this a lot).
  • Faith has taught me to be much more patient than I used to be.
  • I don’t worry about things like I used to. I just trust that God will make the right things happen.
  • I used to run away from relationships that didn’t serve my self-interests. But with faith, I’ve been more willing to accept circumstances that are not always pleasant.
  • Faith has given me the strength to resist the temptation to cheat on my spouse, and I’ve been tempted a lot.
  • I used to be afraid of death. But now, the only thing that concerns me about death is the welfare of those I will leave behind.
  • I don’t agonize over people who have wronged me. Instead I’m now able to forgive them and very effectively let go of the pain. My relationship with God has taught me to replace hate with forgiveness, sorrow and sympathy. And now, memories of past wrongs bring peace, not pain.

I could go on, but it all boils down to the following: my faith in God and Jesus Christ has taught me about humility, love, hope, and how to more easily relate to and accept others.

In looking at all this I realize that I like what my faith in God has done for me. So if I discover tomorrow that my faith is based on a lie, I will be crushed and greatly disappointed, but I will definitely not feel that I wasted my life on something false. No matter what, I’m happy with what faith has done to me.

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But dear Atheist, what if I’m right? What if you come to the end of your life and discover it’s not really the end? What if you discover all this propaganda about heaven and hell, about salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, about God; what if it’s all true?

C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia fame), is quoted as saying, “Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of NO importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

I don’t know about you, but I would rather be a Christian and be wrong, than an Atheist and be wrong. The potential outcome isn’t nearly as devastating.

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Money – Can you always rely on it?

Over coffee this morning, a friend told me about the layoffs that had just taken place at his job. He asked for prayers for several friends who were now out of work – more victims of the crumbling economy. We talked about the condition of the newly-unemployed, and reflected on how much we all tend to rely on money. And that’s what I want to talk about today…

What does money do for you? Off the top of my head, this is what money gives to me:

  • House, plenty of food, health care, toys, stuff
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • If used in the right way, it can help find happiness and joy
  • Sense of security, freedom from worry (about financial things anyway)

What’s it boil down to? What are the key, foundational benefits of money and material wealth? Well, I don’t think it’s the material things that money can buy – those are just intermediate benefits. Those material things contribute to the foundational things, which are all emotional, rather than material, such as:

  • Sense of security
  • Sense of accomplishment
  • Freedom from worry
  • Peace

But as we are seeing in today’s economic mess (and some of us in a very personal way), money is not a very reliable thing to rely on. Here yesterday, and gone today. Upside down mortgages (where you owe more on your house than it is currently worth), vaporized investments, lost jobs – these are the realities of today. And no one is immune, no matter where they are on the corporate or social ladder. Just look at any days newspaper headlines.

Jesus Christ told a parable that I believe can relate to our tendency to rely on money and material wealth for our safety and security.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

To really hear what Jesus teaches us, to have faith in Him, to love Him and put our hope in Him; to put our reliance in Jesus is like building our house on a firm foundation. But to rely on things other than Jesus, like money, is like building our house on sand.

My message for today is this: if you find yourself a victim of these hard economic times, where the ground seems to be falling out from under you, where your financial foundation is eroding away, please try to let go of your dependence on money; that will only lead to despair. Instead, put your reliance on something that will never change, will never go away, and will never diminish. Put your dependence on God.

Just look at the things money can buy, that I previously mentioned: Peace, sense of security, sense of accomplishment, freedom from worry. This is what God brings us as well. As Jesus said…

“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)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

As the apostle Paul once said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 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 4:4-7)

Money may be able to buy you a temporary peace, a peace that can be demolished by external events beyond your control. But as Paul states, the peace that comes from God is something beyond our understanding. The peace of God is not of our world. As Jesus stated in the first verse above, He doesn’t give us a worldly peace. He gives us a peace that cannot be affected by worldly events. He gives us a peace that can stand firm in the midst of economic calamity.

I know; we just can’t understand such a peace. How can we possibly imagine something that we may have never experienced? My advice to you is this: listen to what Jesus and Paul have said. Just accept that this peace which is beyond our understanding is available to you. Just believe.

So during this time of economic upheaval, like nothing most of us have ever experienced before, you have a choice: continue to rely on money for your well-being, as unreliable as money has proven to be. Or shift your reliance to God. Yes, it takes faith, and that may be the difficult part for you. But don’t you think it’s at least worth a bit of your time and consideration?

And for those of you who already regard yourself as Christian, if this economy has you down as well, please take that as a sign that maybe your reliance is more on money than God. You too have a choice.


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What inspires you to obey?

They threaten eternal damnation in hell, if you don’t obey God. They claim that God actually hates you, unless you obey Him. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of them on the Internet or in the news, with their picket signs that say “God hates you,” and other such vulgar declarations. Promoting obedience through condemnation and fear; how effective is that I wonder.

Personally, I never responded very well to threats. If my parents threatened me with punishment when I was a misbehaving child, I might end up obeying them, but it was rather reluctantly. My obedience did not come from my heart – it came from fear. I wonder; is that the kind of obedience God desires? Or does He want our heart, as well as our head?

How did Jesus promote obedience?

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12) Obedience appears to come from faith. Jesus preached faith, knowing that love and obedience will be fruits of that faith. Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us that it is faith that leads to salvation. Not once did He say, “Your obedience has set you free.” With Jesus, it was all about faith. Why? Perhaps because He knows that it first requires faith to follow His command of love. After all, how can you love if you really don’t believe in the one who is calling you to love?

Now what does Jesus have to say about the relationship between love and obedience?

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21)

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

And what does Jesus command? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Back to my original question: how did Jesus promote obedience? The answer is to first promote faith and love. Our sincere love for God and Jesus will grow from our faith in God and Jesus. And out of our love will blossom obedience. Why did I obey my mother when I was a teenager? It was not out of fear (my mother never used threats); it was out of love. I loved her too much to hurt her by being disobedient. I believe it’s the same in our relationship with God.

Also, please consider Jesus’ response when asked what the greatest commandment is. Did He say the greatest commandment is to obey? No, He said the greatest commandment is to love God. “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. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38) Jesus knows that out of love, obedience will follow.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” “I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (1 John: 7-8, 11-12, 15-21) (2 John 5-6)


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Weak Faith = Weak Prayers

Have you ever noticed how you can gauge a person’s faith by how they pray? I’ve written about this before (“How would Jesus pray?”), but after just now receiving a particular prayer request, I can’t help but whine yet again.

I’m on a prayer chain at the church I attend. Tonight, after getting home from work and opening up email on my home computer, I found another in a continuous stream of prayer requesting messages. This one is for a certain person who has a medical problem and has been taken to the hospital. The request comes from their spouse, and what do you think they are asking for?

Let me see; first they want a “correct diagnosis of the problem.” Okay, the doctor can handle that. Then they ask for “effective treatment for physical healing.” Again, the doctor can probably handle that one as well. Next, they ask for “peace of mind for the family.” Well, I suppose the correct diagnosis and effective treatment will take care of the peace of mind. So far, I don’t see anything specifically for God. Oh wait, here’s one; the final request is for “a clear sense of God’s presence.” Last but not least I suppose.

I have to admit, I almost felt anger at this prayer request. It’s just so pathetic and weak. As I’ve written before (“Anything you want – just ask”), Jesus told us over and over again to ask for ANYTHING we want, and He will give it to us. So given that opportunity, the person submitting this prayer request asked for three things, before finally getting around to asking God for something only He can give.

Maybe look at it this way. If you went to the hospital in need of a complex surgical procedure, and you were given a choice of having a first year intern perform the surgery, or having the foremost specialist in the entire world do the surgery; who would you choose? By our lack of faith, too often we do not ask our foremost specialist for the kind of help that only He can give.

I did like their request to have a clear sense of God’s presence. And since I believe in what Jesus told us about asking for anything, I decided to ask for something that would bowl them over with God’s presence, the one thing that they should have asked for in the first place: I asked God for complete and spontaneous healing. Just for the fun of it, answer all four prayers with one holy healing. Maybe then they will understand the true power and love of God. And maybe then, they will no longer dishonor God with pitiful requests.

Please forgive me if I sound a bit harsh. A glass of red wine has a way of opening me up, so my true inner feelings spill out. And with that, good night and sweet dreams. (no matter what time it is when you read this, it’s bed time for me).

May God bless you and show you that He is capable of more than you can possibly image. Just ask Him, please.


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The “Dump and Run” maneuver

A good friend of mine who is a Baptist pastor recently whined to me about the tendency of some people to dump their problems onto him. He explained that some in his congregation like to come to him for a type of confession (maybe these are ex-Catholics). The confession doesn’t bother my friend; what bothers him is the apparent lack of effect.

I agree with him; confessing our sins, either to God or a friend or a pastor, should show evidence of itself in a changed life. To confess yet go on sinning – that sounds rather hypocritical to me. Now I realize that some sins are very difficult to put completely in our past; I know from my own personal, anguished experience. But there should be some evidence we are at least making an effort. After all, that’s what repentance is; to acknowledge our sins and endeavor to sin no more. (emphasis on “endeavor”)

But the “dump and runners” are those who acknowledge their sins to someone else and then run off to sin again. Where’s the repentance in that?

The key question for the dump and runners is this: is there salvation in confession alone? Is confessing your sins enough? Is that all God expects of us?

The truth and the answer is this: we are not saved by confession, we are saved by faith. And not just any faith; we are saved by a faith that changes our lives.

Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) What does “born again” mean, if not to be changed?

And James, the brother of Jesus, stated, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if people claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

Faith without change is dead. Faith without a changed life is not really faith. Look at it this way; if you REALLY believe in the love and teachings of God, you would probably love God back, with all your heart, soul and mind. And by the strength of your love for God, you would take action and change your life.


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The answer’s not always yes

Please forgive me for ignoring something very important in the past three posts. I would like to thank seekhispurpose for pointing it out. In my enthusiasm to illustrate a power in prayer that I believe comes from praying with certainty and expectation, I ignored the fact that with our prayers, the answer is not always yes.

God doesn’t necessarily give us everything we ask for, no matter how strong our faith. When I look back at what I’ve written, I think I wrote those three posts for me as much as for anyone else. My faith in prayer feels weak sometimes. I feel that if I prayed with more faith in God’s love, I might experience more of His grace, in the form of answered prayers. Praying with doubts, as I sometimes do, is not a very good way to pray. I often feel like the father who responded to Jesus by saying something like, “Lord, I believe. Please help me in my unbelief.”

Yet even in our strongest moments of faith and belief, sometimes God says no. I don’t pretend to understand why God occasionally turns down our requests. Yet I do believe that His ways are as far above my ways, as heaven is above the earth.

I’m reminded of a time when I was helping with our church’s youth group. A close friend of many of the teenagers in our group had just died. Only a couple of days after his death, we got together for our regular weekly meeting. We didn’t start with a rowdy game, like we normally would have. Instead, we talked and listened and sat in silence.

One of the leaders told the kids something that has stuck with me. In comparing our relationship with God to a child’s relationship with their parent, he said something like this: “When you were a little child, like around 3 or 4 years old, did you always understand why your parents did the things they did? Now looking back, do you feel you understand more today? Do you think as you grow to become an adult yourself, you will understand your parents past actions even more?” After pausing, he concluded, “It’s like that with God. We are now like very little children to God. There is no way we can understand why He does certain things, or why He allows certain things to happen. Yet someday, maybe not until we are in heaven, we may understand.”

When the answer is no, I just try to accept the fact that I’m too little to understand God’s ways. It’s sometimes painful, like with a little child who is not able to have their way, but I believe I will be better for it, in the end.


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Win or Lose – It’s up to You

This is a story of two teenage girls. They lived in different parts of the country and had no way of knowing each other, yet they had this in common: they were both about to celebrate their 18th birthday. And they had another thing in common; they both had loving parents who wanted to help them celebrate their birthdays in a particular and coincidentally identical manner.

One day Jenna’s parents came to her and asked what she would like most for her birthday. Jenna knew the generosity of her parents, and so she excitedly told them that more than anything, she wanted her own car. It was then no surprise to her when they smiled and said, “Let’s go shopping for one.” Jenna spent the next several weeks leading up to her birthday dreaming about her new car. She knew exactly which car she was getting; they picked it out that very first day they went shopping. Yet the deal was she had to wait until her birthday before she could actually have it. She later reflected that the delay was kind of fun, in that it was a time filled with excited anticipation. She so enjoyed visualizing herself driving her car around town.

Becky, like Jenna, was offered a new car by her parents, for her birthday gift. Yet Becky’s response was totally different. Becky was not an unusual teenage girl, in that she could sometimes exhibit interesting and challenging moods. And on the day her loving parents offered her a brand new car for her birthday, Becky responded with disbelief, rather than joy and excitement. In fact, Becky told her parents directly that she just didn’t believe they would actually give her such an expensive gift. Becky’s parents had previously been excited about how Becky might respond, but now they were crushed and very disappointed. In the end, they decided not to give Becky the car. After all, since she really didn’t believe, why bother. Becky never saw the irony in the fact that she received exactly what she expected to receive – nothing.

What does this story have to do with the types of things I typically talk about on this blog? If you’ve read the past couple of posts, “Anything you want – just ask” and “Is God Santa Claus?“, you’ll see the connection.

I believe that Becky is a representation of most of us, in how we pray to God. Jesus told us to just believe that God will give us what we ask for, and it will be ours. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes it just seems too hard to believe that God would be so generous. We receive exactly what we expect to receive – nothing.

Our Father God is not unlike the two sets of parents in today’s story. He loves us and he wants to give us what we ask for. Yet He’s wiser than most parents. He will only give us what is good for us, what will help us grow and find true joy. So don’t expect God to give you a car that may offer you temporary happiness but no lasting joy. But PLEASE ask God for what you desire most, and know with certainty that as your most loving parent, He wants to give it to you, and He WILL give it to you, if you truly believe.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)


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Is God Santa Claus?

How generous is God? Why does He appear generous with some, yet not with others? Since yesterday’s post about asking, (read it here), I’ve been thinking more about the generosity of God.

If you like, take a look at what I wrote yesterday, specifically at the words of Jesus? What kind of picture do His words paint for you? What kind of image of God do you get from these words?

I’ll tell you the image that came to my mind as I went walking during lunch today: I see God kind of hovering over me, with His arms full of great gifts. Gifts such as health, joy, healing for friends and all who I love, salvation for friends and loved ones, peace in troubled spots of this hate-filled world, prosperity; and my list goes on and on.

Yet God isn’t holding the gifts as if He’s hoarding them. The gifts are kind of over-flowing, ready to spill out and fall into my waiting hands. And He has a huge smile on His face and a twinkle in His eye. He’s excited and filled with anticipation; waiting for me to just ask. Now that I think about it, God is starting to look a lot like my image of Santa Claus. But maybe that’s not too far off the mark.

Here’s another way to think about it: what earthly parent doesn’t love to give their child gifts (in that question I’m only considering parents who are worthy of actually being parents)? Since we are made in His image, I strongly suspect God loves to give us gifts even more so. And the joy a parent experiences when giving to their children, is exceeded only by the joy God experiences when He gives to His children.

What do you want from God? Ask… and believe with certainty and expectation; and I believe the gifts will come tumbling forth, into your waiting arms. But as is often the case, the real question is; what do you believe?


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Anything you want – just ask

What’s holding you back? Why don’t you have everything you want? Are you taking Jesus at His word?

“Ask and it will be given to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

Judging by how often Jesus encouraged us to ask, I don’t think He wanted us to be timid about it.

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19)

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

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24)

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (John 14:13-14)

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (John 15:7)

“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 16:23)

Ask… ask and believe… ask in His name. So why don’t you have everything you want? Why don’t I? I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days. I ask for quite a lot, and I sincerely believe I’m asking for things that are in line with what God wants; like healing for friends, salvation for loved ones. Yet what I ask for is not always granted. Why?

Did Jesus lie to us? I don’t believe that. Did He really not mean what He said? I don’t believe that either. The only thing that makes sense is that Jesus told the truth. So if my prayers are not being granted, I need to look at me for a fix.

The answer is simple, and we all know it: we need to ask with faith. We need to believe that God will give us what we ask for, and we need to ask in Jesus’ name. Okay, I believe and I ask in His name – but I still don’t have what I want.

Yet, do I really believe? That’s the real question I’ve been pondering the past couple of days. Do I really believe that God will give me anything I ask for? We’re talking anything here? Not just trivial stuff, but big stuff as well.

When I ask God to heal my friend of cancer, do I believe He will do it? I believe He’s capable, but I have to admit, most times when I ask for prayers of healing, deep down inside I don’t really expect God to do it. What kind of belief is that?

It’s like my son who recently came to me at 10:30 in the evening and asked, “You wouldn’t be willing to let me spend the night at David’s, would you?” He asked for what he wanted, but he didn’t expect me to give it to him (and I didn’t). Is that how we sometimes ask God for the things we want?

I ask you, next time you go to your Father in prayer, ask with certainty, ask with expectation. Don’t just believe, but expect God to answer. Don’t just believe, but depend on God to give you what you want. Rely on Him.

One final thought. It’s not just you I am thinking of; I’m also thinking about those who are not Christian. What kind of message do they see in how we pray? What kind of image of God do we paint for others to see? Do people see an all-powerful, gracious and generous God? Or do they see a weak, stingy God? Imaging if you will what the impact would be if all Christians asked and received whatever they asked for. What a powerful statement of God’s love, power and reality.

I’ve given one example of why I think we don’t receive what we ask for (we ask without certainty and expectation). Please add to this with ideas of your own.


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How Elusive the Truth

It can be staring me right in the face, and I’ll still miss it. It’s only after I find it, that I realize how obvious it was all along (duh).

I’ll give you an example from my engineering career. We were having lots of test failures, and I was in charge of finding the cause. With a pre-conceived notion in my head, I went in search of some complex root cause, pouring through all the data I could find. After a couple of days of fruitless labor, my boss came out to the production floor, surveyed the lay of the land for only a couple of minutes, pointed to some circuit boards resting in a holding tray, and dryly declared, “There’s your problem.”

And he was right! Boy did I feel dumb. The truth behind all the failures had been literally staring me in the face for over two days, and I never saw it. I had been looking for some complex problem, yet the truth was that the root cause was oh so simple. I wanted to show my engineering prowess and let people know how smart I was, but the truth didn’t require an engineering degree.

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Here’s another example (this one I think I got right):

I look at the data that surrounds me everyday: flowers, a blade of grass, a bird gliding across the breeze, the air I breath in that keeps me alive, the food I eat that somehow is converted to energy, the huge variety of animals that abound the earth, the human brain that defies explanation, the vastness of the universe and all that is in it, and my list goes on and on.

I marvel at all this data. It baffles and amazes me. And it tells me a truth; for me the truth is that none of this data just happened by chance. There is an intelligence behind all that makes up our existence. The truth is God.

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So, why? Why is it that the truth so often eludes us, yet it may be right in front of us? Why is it we have eyes, yet sometimes cannot see? Why is it we have brains, yet sometimes it seems we do not think? Why is it that sometimes I do not trade in my pre-conceived notions for reality? Why do so many of us ignore the data and instead go with our personal preference?

The answer I offer you today may not be easy to swallow, because it goes against our human nature. The answer is pride. Pride keeps us from going with the easy answer, when our ego is better boosted by the complex answer. Pride keeps us from admitting we are wrong. Pride keeps us from accepting that there is a being more powerful than we are. Pride keeps us in a prison of delusion.

Look at your own life. What has pride and ego done for you lately? Does it make your life easier, or perhaps more stressful, like when things don’t go your way? Open your eyes, try to consider the data again, and decide what you think the truth is. I sure hope you’re right.

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NIV)


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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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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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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.)