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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Good Morning Dear Friend

close to God

Good morning dear Jesus. I’m so grateful to be your friend. You said that there is no greater love than that of a friend who sacrifices his life for another friend and, that we are your friends, if we do as you command. And later you said that your command is to love each other. You then sacrificed yourself, for us. Yet you didn’t wait for our love. Your love came first, without conditions.

I admit that I don’t truly understand the magnitude of your love. Maybe your love goes beyond human love, like a dimension of love that we cannot see. Yet you’ve spilled your love (and your blood), into our human lives. I’m so grateful you didn’t wait for my love to come first. Thank you dear Jesus.


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Hugging Jesus

forest trail

We were on vacation up in the mountains, having rented a cabin on the edge of a pine forest. Early each morning, before my wife and children awoke, I would sneak outside for a quiet walk in the woods. I prayed for most of my walk, sometimes stopping, standing still in the middle of the trail with my eyes closed, just so I could focus more on Jesus.

I was so hungry for Jesus. I was craving His presence in my life. I ached with the overpowering desire to see Him in human form. As I stood still on that trail, I hoped with all my heart to open my eyes to find Jesus standing in front of me. My love for Him ached to reach out and hug Him.

“If you want to hug me, hug someone else. For within them, you will be hugging me too.” At that moment of intense desire, these words came into my mind. Was Jesus speaking to me? Was He answering my prayers? I believe so.

Do you love Jesus? Then show Him your love, by loving others. Next time you hug someone, picture Jesus within them. And maybe give Jesus an extra squeeze to show Him how much you care.


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More than Words

writing love

Jesus said if we believe in Him, we could look forward to an eternal life in heaven (John 3:16). I once thought that all I had to do was say the words, “I believe in Jesus,” and eternal life was mine. Yet, why would my relationship with Jesus be different from any other relationship I have? A healthy and meaningful relationship takes more than words.


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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, he shocked me with, “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. Though Tom would accept that God doesn’t hate sinners, he 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 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)

(This is an excerpt from the book I’m writing)

Are you like my friend Tom? Have you been wounded by flawed messages? If so, maybe check out the Facebook group, For Wounded Christians – A Place for Healing.


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Jim – Loving the Hard to Love

I was 500 miles away when my phone rang at 4:00am. My brothers girlfriend, weeping and hysterical, was telling me something, though I couldn’t understand a word she said between the gasps. Yet I knew. No more pain for my brother.

He had called me seven months earlier. We hadn’t seen each other for over 25 years, mainly because we didn’t hang out in the same places. He spent most of his time in prison.

He called to tell me he had lung cancer, and he needed me. I didn’t want to go, but he had no one else, and something inside me said… go.

During the next seven months, I spent a lot of time with my brother. Right after the first surgery, when they removed the tumors, the nurse called me into the recovery room to help calm my brother. He was sitting up in the bed, tubes and wires hanging off his tattoo-covered body, and loudly complaining about pain. I was amazed to see him actually sitting, just minutes after waking up from lung surgery. I went to the side of the bed, he looked up at me, leaned his head on my chest, and he fell asleep. I put my arm around his shoulder and just stood there, holding him steady. The nurse was grateful. I was uncomfortable.

I never wanted to get involved. Every time I went to see him, it was with reluctance. I’m not a natural at the nurturing and compassion thing. As the chemo cocktail dripped into his veins, I’d sit there, stealing glances at my watch, looking for a chance to excuse myself and leave. My hugs were not always sincere.

But this is what I learned: how I felt didn’t matter. It wasn’t about me. I may have been reluctant with each visit and phone call, but it was all for my brother. Even though my love was not true, my brother still felt loved. And it was good for him. He never hesitated to say “I love you.” Maybe he felt compassion from me that he hadn’t felt for a long time – you don’t get much in prison.

Here’s another thought that just hit me: maybe the love my brother felt wasn’t really from me, but was from Jesus within me. When I can’t bring myself to sincerely love, Jesus can love through me. And I’m so grateful.


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Studying my way to God?

books

I have read the bible many times, especially the New Testament. I’ve read great books by Andrew Murray, William Law, and A.W. Tozer. I’ve read sermons and devotionals by Charles Spurgeon. And then there’s “The Practice of the Presence of God,” by Brother Lawrence – my most well-worn non-bible book. All of my studying has helped me develop a close relationship with God, or so it appears.

Is diligent study really the secret to an intimate relationship with God and Jesus? I don’t think so, because based on what Jesus said and how He lived, it doesn’t make sense.

What came into my mind as I puzzled over this was what Paul frequently mentioned about faith, hope, and love. As he said, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

A relationship with God obviously starts with faith. But it’s love that makes that relationship grow. Though study may help, in my case anyway, without love the study is meaningless.

Reading about food will not ease your hunger. Are you hungry for closeness with God? Then love Him. Let His Spirit into your life. Taste His presence in your soul. And you will be filled, to overflowing.


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Love Evangelizes

Love power

We were having a brief blog-chat about evangelism. My fellow Christian blogger was afraid that her efforts to introduce her friends to truthful information about Jesus would come across as preachy, and be a turn-off. I’ve experienced similar fears. Instead of pulling people toward Jesus, a preachy approach will often push them away.

Yet God doesn’t want us to be preachy to others. Jesus tells us that people should know we are His disciples by our love for each other, not by our preaching. As He said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Long ago, when I told my sister about my realization that I had finally become Christian, she said, “You’re not one of those Jesus freaks, are you?” Well, I didn’t answer her, but inside I answered myself with, YES!

Yet, I think it has surprised my sister that after all these years, I’ve never preached to her. But what I have done is love her more. And it has been in my ever-growing relationship with God where I have learned to truly love.

Where preachiness pushes, love pulls. Love evangelizes far better than preachiness.


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To be Dad

To be Dad

I have two adult sons, whom I love so much it almost hurts. What’s up with that? Look, it hurts because I miss them… always. My wife and I raised them to be honorable men, filled with love and integrity, with the strength and independence to take care of their own lives. And that’s just who they are.

One of the purposes of being a parent is to raise our kids to take care of themselves. And for some of us, it’s hard to let go as we gently usher them out the door. I’m so proud of my sons and how they are living their lives. Yet I just wish I could see them more often. I wish I could always be with them, sharing their lives with them.

You know what? Your Father God feels the same way about you. Our Father loves you so much I suspect it sometimes hurts. He wants to be with you, sharing your life with you. Yes, like me and how I feel about my sons, God wants us to have the honor, integrity, and strength to take care of ourselves. But He doesn’t want us to do it alone. Our heavenly Dad loves you as only a parent can.


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Love is God

Where love there is God

My adopted brother turned his back on my parents, ran away from home, and spent most of his life in prison. Yet even with all their pain and suffering, my parents never stopped loving their lost son. But their love for my half-bother is only a faded image of Gods love for His children.

To know true love is to know the nature of God. The primary trait of Gods character is love, for as John said, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16).

Love is so much a part of God and God so loves, that He and love are the same. Love is not a description of God – God is a description of love.

Applying God to Paul’s picture of love in chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians, we have a vivid portrait of the true character of God…

“God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, He does not boast, He is not proud. God is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. God never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, paraphrase)

Where there is love, there is God.


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Loving Enemies – There’s Power There

love enemies

I discovered something this morning. Many years ago, when I started reading the bible, I was first perplexed with Jesus’ call to love our enemies. I didn’t like the idea. I think over the years my heart has softened a bit, and I do find it easier to feel compassion for my enemies (I like to see that as a form of love). Yet I still struggle.

Anyway, what first perplexed me, later amazed me when I realized that Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything He and God are not willing to do. God loves His enemies.

Then this morning it hit me – I was once God’s enemy. Somewhere around the time when I waffled between atheist and agnostic, without getting into details of what I remember about my life at that time, I’m certain I was an enemy of God. Yet He loved me, even then.

I now believe that the power of God’s love of me slowly melted my hard heart, to where I now love Him. God’s love melts down barriers. WOW! I love it when He amazes me. God is so much fun.

I hope you all have a great day. And remember, God loves you, no matter how you feel about Him.


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A Hug for Halloween

hugs

I came across a blog post that asks; if my blog site could hand out treats, what would it be? I’d like to hand out hugs; nice, warm, sincere, compassionate, and gentle hugs. There is power in a gentle touch.

In the gospel of Luke, there is a story about a man suffering from leprosy. “While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’” (Luke 5:12)

Who knows how long he had the disease, but we know those stricken with leprosy were outcasts. Everyone avoided them. So this man, covered with the soars of the nerve-killing illness, had not touched or been touched by another human being for possibly many years. No one had hugged him, no hand had touched his, and no arm had gone around his shoulders in a moment of comfort – until Jesus came along.

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean,” he said to Jesus. The man had the faith, yet his sense of kindness in others had been lost in the years of isolation. He doubted not Jesus’ ability, only His willingness to be kind. It had been that long since this man had felt compassion from another. What did Jesus do next? We know from other stories that He could have healed him right off. Yet Jesus did something better. He first gave the man what he needed most. Out of love and compassion, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” (verse 13) For the first time in perhaps years, another person reached out and touched this lonely, leprous human being.

In the midst of the emotion that may have begun to swell within the man, Jesus then said, “I am willing. Be clean.” And the leprosy left him.

 

So now I’d like to give you a virtual hug … nope, just doesn’t cute it. Oh well. I hope you have a great Halloween Friday.


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When God went Quiet

God went quiet

This morning, while letting the coffee cup warm my hands as my mind chatted with God, I thought about how I need His presence in my life. I depend on His presence, and I found myself again wondering how lost I would be without a sense of His presence. The other day I wrote about what happens when God goes quiet in my life (see it here).

It’s been a long time since I felt no sense of God, and in that time I’ve grown to lean on Him more. Imagining what it might be like to lose Him, I felt like curling up on the floor and shutting down. Life is just too hard to try to deal with on my own.

All of this negative thinking then reminded me of a powerful, yet sometimes lost truth. The sense of dread I feel around the idea of losing Gods presence is nothing compared to what Jesus felt that night in the olive grove, just hours before His arrest, torture and death.

As Jesus hung on the cross, moments away from death, with the sins of the entire world piling onto his bloody back, God went quiet. Jesus paid the ultimate penalty for sin – separation from God. For the first time in eternity, the Son was alone, without the presence of His Father. The physical pain may have been nothing compared to the emotional and spiritual pain.

Think of someone you feel you cannot live without. Now take them away. How does it feel now? Jesus felt so much worse. So did His Father. And they willingly endured the pain, all for their love for us.


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Writing for Love of Family

writing love

Most of my family isn’t Christian. I’m the family Jesus freak. Whenever a sister, niece, nephew, or in-law is brave enough to mention anything Christian around me, it’s clear their perspective of Christianity has been polluted by false information.

That’s why I’m writing the book I’ve been working on for the past 6 years. I just realized that I spent the first 4 ½ years doing research. It’s only the past 1 ½ years that I’ve been doing real writing.

Anyway, what gets me up at 4:00am each morning so I can write before going to work is love for my family. It hurts me to see some of them hurting because of the false ideas they have about God and Jesus. If they only knew the truth… they still might not accept Jesus, but at least they could make their decision based on truth, rather than lies.

And so I write, with the hope that I put my “self” aside long enough to let Jesus speak His truth to my family, through the book. His truth can set them free from the pain of the troubles in their lives.


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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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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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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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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?”