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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To Leave Everything … and Follow Him

They left everything, and followed Jesus. I was reading in the gospel of Luke about when Jesus started calling the first disciples. When He called Peter and again when He called Matthew, Luke writes that they “left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11, 28) They left their former way of life – fishing for Peter and tax collecting for Matthew – and physically followed Jesus.

That’s fine for them, but what does it mean to me to leave everything? One thing I’m certain about, Jesus isn’t calling me to leave work, home, and family to physically follow Him on some mission trip. Since His Spirit lives within me, I don’t have to physically go anywhere in order to follow Him. I feel He wants me to follow Him right where I am; at work, home, and in my family.

But what is He calling me to leave behind? For me, I feel Jesus calling me to leave my old self behind. Myself, who reacts stressfully to chaotic stuff at work; myself, who is sometimes selfish and not thinking enough of the needs of others; and myself, who sometimes goes for long stretches of time without thinking of Jesus.

For me, I think it boils down to the call to be in the world, but not of the world; for example, to be at work, but not let work control my reactions to things. For me, to leave work and follow Jesus is to let Him control my reactions to the chaos of work.

I believe Jesus calls each of us in a very personal way; His call to you may be different from His call to me. Do you feel Jesus calling you to leave everything and follow Him? And what is He calling you to leave? What does this mean to you?


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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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Christian Decline in US

PEW Chart

The PEW Research Center recently released the results of its 2014 Religious Landscape Survey. Since its first such survey in 2007, the number of Christian adults in the US has shrunk by an estimated 5 million people. Yet over that same time, the US adult population has increased by 18 million. Why is the Christian church shrinking in the US?

Jesus knew the answer: “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 7:26-27)

I believe that some churches have moved from a solid foundation of the truth of Jesus Christ, to a foundation of sand. Resting on manmade traditions and rules, and preaching popular opinion rather than the true essence of Christianity – this is the foundation of many of today’s churches. And they are crumbling. The PEW research shows the result.

Yet turning those survey results around is easy.


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Gift Exchange

Today, Good Friday, we recognize the sacrifice Jesus took upon Himself for all of us. He gave His life for us. Because I’m so grateful, I’d like to give Jesus something in return. As He did for me, I’d like to do for Him – I’d like to give Jesus my life.

To surrender my life to Jesus – how can I do that today? What does this look like? How about this: I’ll give Jesus my thoughts today, as often as I am able.

Are you grateful for what Jesus did for you? Give Him your thoughts today. Focus your mind on Jesus as often as you are able.


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That’s My Book of Order!

book of order

Each of the church elders had already put in a full days work, with another workday less than ten hours away. Yet they were now in the third hour of a one-hour meeting, a little after 10:00 pm, and the pastor was again lecturing on the supremacy of the Presbyterian Book of Order. The elders had heard this message many times before, how important it is to make sure all their decisions are in accordance with the Presbyterian rulebook. Finally, my friend Chris couldn’t take any more. At a pause in the lecture, Chris slowly stood up, slammed his bible on the table, and declared, “THAT’s my Book of Order!”

Beware of those who put their rules above Gods rules. As Jesus warned, “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Matthew 15:9)


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Falling Into My Stress-Pit

Out-of-the-Slimy-Pit

As a kid, when I would run out the backdoor to wander the hills behind our house, my mom liked to shout, “Don’t fall in a hole.” Even now, as a much older kid, if I tell mom that my wife and I are going on a hike, she’ll end the phone call with, “Don’t fall in a hole.”

Well, I recently fell again in that same old hole of my own digging. While on the journey of writing a book, I started over-planning my next steps. The revision I’m now working on will be followed with a good cleaning up by an editor friend of mine. I need to finalize the proposal. I will then follow the path of trying to convince a traditional Christian publisher, by submitting the proposal to the Christian Manuscript Submission website. And if that doesn’t get anyone’s attention, I’d turn to the path of self-publishing, likely with the help of Westbow Press. And I could ask my artistic niece to create a cover design – I really like that idea. These, and more tasks, started crowding my thoughts. And of course, I started dreaming up a schedule for all of this.

I was deep in the hole now, over my head in the stress-pit of my over-planning. The fun was dying from my book project.

But thankfully, Jesus reminded me of my folly. He reminded me that it’s His plans and schedules that are important. He’ll take care of the timing. All I need to do is make myself available to Him, to write when He wants me to write, and to do all that other stuff only when the time is right. The stress is now gone… at least until I start digging my hole again.


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Dear Jesus…

child in lap

Dear Jesus, I give you this day, I give you my life today, one day at a time, as it’s the best I seem able to do. But this offer sounds silly to me, as I feel that my life, this day, is not even mine to give away. I believe it’s already yours; always has been. So what should be my prayer today?

Maybe this: Dear Jesus, thank you for this day that you will share with me, this day that is yours already, my life that is yours already, sharing these precious things with me. Thank you for being greater in my life, and for my self-centered self being less.

What will we do today, together? The joy of following your lead – this is truly living.


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Your Inner Voice of God

Inner voice

I vividly remember reluctantly meeting them over ten years ago. I was walking back to work after my lunchtime visit to the nearby hardware store. She was sitting on the lawn by the entrance to the parking lot. He was standing by the road, holding out his handmade cardboard sign, hoping for a handout.

My feet wanted to take the long way around them. But my inner voice (yes, my voice of God), said, “Go talk with them.”

“No, please. Not today. I should be getting back to work.”

“CJ, you know what’s right. Do it, for me.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll go talk with them. But only for a minute.”

We hung out together for over 20 minutes. They told me their story. And when I went to leave, we hugged.

My inner voice of God is always right. I just need to listen more often.


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What if…?

I’ve been thinking a lot about a family friend who recently died. What if I died and went to heaven? What if I saw, felt, and lived the mysterious truth of heaven? The joy, the peace, the warmth, the freedom, the love, with God and Jesus. Then, what if God decided to send me back to earth and re-awaken my dead body? With my new, heavenly perspective, how might I now live my earthly life? What might I do differently?

What if?


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Joy of Surrender

surrender 2

I filled the first part of my life with self-directed efforts to get control and improve myself. I continuously listened to self-help tape programs by such people as Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, and Tony Robbins. I wasn’t satisfied with the type of person I was, so I looked to these people to help me get control of my life.

I’m now at a weird place, a place I never thought I’d be. Now, I don’t want control. Control is too stressful… things don’t always go my way. Control is a burden… too much responsibility. So now, I daily pray for God to take full control of my life. I just want to sit back, relax, and follow God’s lead.

Some days are relaxing in this way, no matter what chaos is going on around me, but not all. I’m still a work in progress, daily striving to give up control… to God. And I’m so grateful that He’s patient with me.


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From Mild Atheist to Ravenous Christian

I was having an email chat with a friend, and they asked me my story. I decided to share my answer with anyone one else who might be curious. Very briefly, here it is…

I waffled between agnostic and atheist during the first half of my life. Periodically I felt an interest in learning more about this person called Jesus. I even read a bit of the bible while in college. But it didn’t go beyond a weak interest. Then, in my thirty-something years, my interest started to grow. I started going to church.

I ended up helping lead our church youth group, where I grew much stronger in my relationship with God, and my interest became a hunger. Eventually, church started feeling uncomfortable to me, yet I didn’t know why. Though it was a hard decision for me, preceded by lots of conversations with God, I left that church.

I tried several other churches, but I never felt “called” to stick with any of them. I’m still not sure why, but I haven’t attended a Christian church for over 4 years. All I want to do is God’s will, yet so far it appears His will does not include me attending a church. Yet, thanks to my continued hunger and thirst for God, the amount of personal one-on-one time I spend with God, and His love and grace, I feel closer to God, Jesus, and their Spirit than ever in my life. And it didn’t require any kind of manmade religious structure or personal effort. All it took was desire on my part (I consider desire as faith that’s ready for action), and God did the rest. And I’m so grateful.


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Practicing Trust

practice trust

I’ve been working a lot lately on trusting God, with my writing (book and blog), with work, with all my relationships. And I’ve seen that like everything in our lives, with practice, trusting God becomes easier.

It’s becoming easier for me to just relax and let Him guide my steps, guide my hand as I write, guide my words as I speak. And it’s a blast! This sense of real, sincere trust and what I see as He guides me – it’s really fun. This is joy, the joy of trust.

Oh, dear Jesus, thank you so much. As your peace and joy is beyond understanding, so is my gratitude beyond my ability to express. I am yours. Now let’s go have some fun and work on the book.


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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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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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Healing the Pain of Sexual Abuse

healing the pain of sexual abuse

My first stepfather sexually abused me when I was 7 years old. A typical situation, I suppose – he threatened harm if I told anyone. Fortunately, there were other problems with the marriage, and my mom divorced him after only a year together. But we all had scars from that experience.

My scars fed my strong desire for revenge. As I grew older and came to understand what he had done to me, I grew angrier. In my late teens, I fantasized about running into him someday. I planned each move, the first being a fully energized kick square in the source of my suffering, sending him to his knees. There were times when I even dreamed of killing him. The hate was strong and painful.

About 20 years later, I met Jesus Christ and He started teaching me about love and forgiveness. It’s taken me a long time to learn the lesson, but I finally let go of the hate. I wholeheartedly forgive my stepfather. I feel sorry for him, for he was a very troubled person. And I’m now free of my own troubles – free from the pain of hate and memories, freed by forgiveness. Thanks to the love and forgiveness of Jesus.


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My Father God

To me, God is my perfect parent. God, my Father, loves me unconditionally. He may not always like some of the things I do, and He may even get angry at me sometimes. But like all really good parents, there is nothing I can do that will affect the love He has for me. And like all loving parents, what He may desire most is a close, intimate relationship with His children. “Yet to all who did receive him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)

I am so grateful to be a child of God.


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Catholic Rule #82

8-8-14 Catechism 82

“As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” (Catechism 82 of the Roman Catholic Church, emphasis added) The Catholic Church considers God’s word, as recorded in the Bible, and Catholic tradition, as equally valid and important.

Jesus might say in response, “You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (Mark 7:8)

Moses might say, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

And the apostle Paul might add, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2:8)

Catholic tradition verses the word of God – I’ll choose God.


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Seeking Truth

Please, tell me your story of truth. If you’ve read any of my posts on this site, you know that the theme is all about contrasting false images of Christianity we see in our world, with the truth. Sometimes what we see is not anywhere near what the founder of Christianity, Jesus, had in mind.

I haven’t written anything on this site for a long time. The reason is that I’ve been spending my writing time working on a book. But instead of getting back to writing posts for this site, I find that I’m now more interested in hearing the experiences of others. What have you experienced in your exposure to the Christian church that may have been a false image of Christianity? Please share your story.

I know a lot of people who have been wounded by false messages coming from some churches. And I have a growing passion to help people find freedom from the pain of lies and deceptions. It occurred to me that maybe simply providing a forum to vent might be helpful. So please vent. Have you been wounded by a so-called Christian church, or so-called Christian? Then please, tell us about it, if you want to. Just comment to this post.

And if this kind of sharing becomes popular, I’ll try to find a better way to help facilitate it.

Thank you


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Creepy Christians?

Here are some of the ways I used to feel around Christians; see if these sound familiar to your experience:

  • I felt like Christians were constantly judging my behavior and actions.
  • It seemed to me like Christians thought they were better than everyone else.
  • I felt like Christians disliked me and everyone else who wasn’t a Christian.
  • I thought Christians were flat-out weird whenever I saw them praying in public, and I’d stay far away from them, as if I didn’t want to catch whatever sickness they had.
  • The worst was that I always felt like Christians were trying to pressure me to convert and take on their beliefs. Just leave me alone and let me be how I want to be!!! – that’s how I felt.

Than I became a Christian. I remember my sister saying, “Oh no, are you now a Jesus Freak?” The answer was yes. Yet even though I had become crazy about Jesus, I sure didn’t want to become creepy. Ever since I decided that I really like Jesus and believe in Him, I’ve been searching for the truth of what a real “Christian” should look like. In other words, how would Jesus have Christians appear to non-Christians?

For all who call themselves “Christian,” here’s some advice from the experts (note, I like to put Jesus’ words in red, since He’s the best expert on the subject):

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)

“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.” (Romans 14:1)

“But you – who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)

“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)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men… But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:5, 6)

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men.” (Hebrews 12:14)

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

“Be merciful to those who doubt.” (Jude 1:22)

All Christians should pay attention to the advice of the experts.


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It’s a Cold, Cruel World

It’s difficult and often dangerous out in the “real” world. As I raised my children, I protected them, fed them, taught them, cared for them, and loved them. I did my best to create a safe, joyful and loving environment at home. Yet they left.

Well of course they left; that’s the way of our society. Raise your children and then send them off on their own, to fend for themselves and put what you taught them into practice, hopefully.

It’s part of our nature to want to go out on our own, and live independent of our parents. We want to make our own decisions and direct our own life, without having to report to someone else. And along with this comes the responsibility of dealing with our own problems, on our own.

Of course for many of us, mom and dad are no farther away that the other end of the telephone, and they are often willing and able to help us deal with our problems. We may have left them when we moved out of their house, but they never really left us. Loving parents make themselves always available to help and guide their adult children.

Where am I going with all this? Well, I think this little scenario illustrates our history and relationship with God.

Humanity, in the persons of Adam and Eve, were lovingly raised by God, who offered them a home with Him, forever. He would protect them, feed them, teach them, care for them and love them. But the independent nature kicked in. Adam and Eve wanted to leave home and go out on their own, make their own decisions and direct their own lives.

I know some self-proclaimed atheists who make a case that all of the world’s problems are evidence that there is no God, for how could a God possibly allow so much evil. The truth is, God does not allow evil, in His home. But humanity struck out on their own, into the cold, cruel, evil world. We left God to go out on our own, spurred on by our prideful ego, which told us we were smart enough to live independent from God.

Yet we are not alone in this cold, cruel world. God is always just on the other end of the phone, lovingly willing to help us deal with our problems. All we need do is call, and listen.