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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A “Groundhog Day” Moment

The early evening sun dropped behind the tree in the front yard, casting the lawn in speckled shadows. My wife sat in her usual spot for that time of day, on the couch, facing the large window looking out to the street, her latest favorite book in hand. I was in my usual spot, on the family room couch, scanning the articles in our local online newspaper (yes, it was all the same stuff—all coronavirus, all the time).

Suddenly my wife let out a chuckle.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“I just had a ‘Groundhog Day’ moment,” she said, still chuckling.

“A what?”

“Well, I’m sitting here looking out the window, and I’m seeing the same people, walking past at the same time of day, in the same direction, and yet all keeping plenty of ‘social distance’ between them. But it’s just like yesterday—the same thing each day.”

And then we were both chuckling, feeling as if we too were stuck in the cycle Bill Murray fell into in the movie “Groundhog Day,” living the same day over and over again.

This sheltering in place has many of us falling into a routine as we try to make the best out of a difficult situation. Some, like the people my wife chuckled at, get outside when they can for a nice social-distanced walk in the fresh air. My wife and I do, usually at the same time of day, each and every day. Yet, we do sometimes change our route, being the thrill-seekers we are.

Are you living your own Groundhog Day? If it feels that way, you can always keep repeating what you enjoy, and change up what you don’t. And if possible, try to find some humor in our new reality.

By the way, I tried to figure out how to tie this into some kind of Christian message, since that’s what I usually write about. But I couldn’t think of anything. So I decided to share it just for the fun. During this era of tension and stress that so many of us feel, it’s important to have some fun, as often as we can.

Here’s hoping you have a great day today, even if it’s a lot like yesterday.


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United by a Common Enemy

Walking through the near-empty streets, he waives at people he never waived at before. He even pauses and chats with strangers who no longer feel like strangers. Somewhere in the shadowed corners of his mind, he feels that none of us are strangers. Not now. Not anymore. The Enemy is bringing us together (with a safe social distance, that is).

He smiles at the irony.

He’s beginning to feel that at some level, we all know each other. Maybe it’s because of our common enemy. The common fight. The fight against fear, anxiety, and the Enemy itself. The Enemy has a name. COVID-19. Coronavirus we call it. It fights us. We fight back.

He sees the thing all such enemies have in common. Whether a pandemic-spreading virus, or a man, a notorious dictator, a tyrant—they bring all their victims together in the common cause. But this time is different. For all humanity is united like never before.

Today he feels that humanity is one. Humanity is whole.

He feels a shiver of excitement race through his chest, tickling its way up his neck and into his mind. Could it be that because of how humanity has been brought together, could it be that when we emerge from this battle, something will have changed in the human relationship? He can’t imagine what form the change might take, but he feels a thrill at the idea of it. And his hope swells.


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Life Without Jesus is a Heart Attack

Everyone deals with stress and anxiety in their own way. And as we all know, there’s plenty of stressful stuff polluting our lives these days. Some people are stronger than others and can deal with stress on their own. I once thought I was one of the strong people. Not anymore.

I now look at some of the crap going on in my life and think, “You know Jesus, if you weren’t here with me right now, I would probably take this stuff too seriously and give myself a heart attack.” One thing Jesus’ presence in my life does for me is, He helps keep my priorities focused on Him, rather than all that meaningless stressful stuff.

How do you handle stress? Alone, or with help?

I thought of this today while reading Philippians: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)


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The Christmas That Lingers

The house is brightly decorated: nutcrackers, wreaths, red ribbons, mistletoe, a goofy looking reindeer made from a sock, memories brought back to life by tree ornaments once made by child hands, and the glistening lights with the colorful ornaments bringing life to the tree. The gifts encircle it all. Cheery wrapping paper and gift bags brighten the floor around the Christmas tree.

And then, all that colorful wrapping ends up in the trash. And the decorations are all packed away, forgotten until next year. The gifts are soon absorbed into our everyday life and just become another possession. Or they are totally forgotten in the back of a drawer, or the top of a dusty shelf.

But there’s one piece of Christmas that lingers. There’s one bright and lively Christmas gift that remains, and is not forgotten.

When all else is packed away or is put on the curb in the trash can, the Spirit of Jesus can still fill the house, and your heart, with His life and love and joy.

Happy Christmas to you – all year long.


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From Out of the Gutter

“Evangelism” – another one of those big religious words I’m not fond of. But I really like what I think it means.

I like the idea of introducing people to God and Jesus. Just show them the truth and step back, letting them decide what they will do with the truth. Showing the truth through my writing and blog posts is easy for me. It doesn’t feel pushy (I don’t want to push anyone), and the reader can easily walk away at any time. But I’m not comfortable with the face-to-face approach.

And then I recently read the story of the Prodigal Son in chapter 15 of Luke’s gospel. I love that story. It so clearly paints a picture of the unconditional forgiveness and love of God.

Imagine this: you go up to God, tell him you wish he was dead, steal a bunch of his wealth, and leave town. You then go to Vegas and party, hard and dirty. Oh, but then you get into trouble. You loose all the money you took from God and end up sleeping in the gutter. You eventually get tired of the homeless life and decide to go ask God for help. That takes a lot on humility, doesn’t it?

Anyway, before you get within a mile of his house, you see God running towards you – pretty fast for an old guy. He runs up to you, wraps his arms around you, and kisses you, with tears of joy streaming down his cheeks. He’s overjoyed to see you. He’s so happy that he throws a welcome home party for you.

This is how Jesus described God in the story of the Prodigal Son. This is the truth of the nature of God and His love for us. And this is the story I think I’ll tell if anyone asks me what I think about God. You can call it evangelism. Maybe I’ll call it helping people out of the gutter of life… helping them see the possibilities of a new life, with God and Jesus.


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The Question Is…

How do you feel about forgiveness? Is it hard for you too? Is it hard for you to forgive other people? What about yourself – is it hard to forgive your own mistakes? For me, my mistakes can ruin a good day.

Okay, now what about God? How do you feel about His forgiveness of your sins? Do you believe all your sins will be forgiven? Well, all the mistakes you’ve ever made have already been forgiven by God. God’s forgiveness is immediate and unconditional.

So the real question is not about what God’s reaction will be when we make mistakes (His reaction is a given), but what will our reaction be? Knowing about God’s forgiveness is one step; accepting it is a bigger step. That’s where faith comes in.

So let’s say you have the faith to accept God’s forgiveness of every mistake and sin that has infected your life – past and future. What will be your reaction to that vast amount of unconditional forgiveness? God hasn’t asked anything of you, except that you believe in and accept His unconditional gift. God accepts you just as you are. Will you accept Him, and His forgiveness? And by accepting, how will that make you feel? (Okay, I’m trying to lead you down a path to overwhelming gratitude. Please forgive my awkwardness.)

Oh, and when you accept God’s forgiveness, you’ll finally be able to forgive yourself, and others. Isn’t it a bit ironic that one of the biggest burdens in our life can be our lack of ability to forgive? God wants to free each of us of this burden.

Final thought: Our sins were forgiven a long time ago, by Jesus dying on that cross and paying the penalty for all sins. How do you feel about that? (Okay, looking for profound gratitude again.)

 

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

 


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The Manmade Church – a Prison?

The manmade church; a building, the establishment,

rules, traditions, obligations, deceptions, false ideas about Christianity.

A prison?

Many are prisoners of a manmade church,

fastened to the church by a heavy chain of lies.

Picture in your mind… the church, the prisoner, and the heavy chain,

shackled to her ankle, holding her fast to the manmade church.

Now here comes Jesus,

with His love, and grace, and forgiveness, and truth.

And with His sword of truth Jesus shatters the chain, and sets the prisoners free.

His truth will set you free!


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Porn Addiction

Apparently it’s a big problem within our society – addiction to porn. And I learned from a good friend who has done some research, that the Christian community is not immune. Addictions lead to pain and suffering, and this porn plague is no different.

So I found myself wondering how people could kick this addiction, or any addiction. Well, I don’t think focusing on the addiction would help. All that does is keep what you want to avoid in the forefront of your mind, which would only draw you deeper into it. You naturally gravitate to what you think about. As some old philosopher type person once said, “We become what we think about” (wish I could remember who said that).

Anyway, I believe the cure for all such things as porn addictions is to rip your mind away from the addiction and focus instead on the Spirit of Jesus within you. The more you think of Jesus and the more you surrender your mind to Him, the more He will draw you closer – you become what you think about.

And with Jesus, there is no painful addiction; instead there’s freedom, and peace, and love.


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Chasing Peace – Day 27 – A Wave of Love

This morning God opened my eyes to a truth I’ve long known, but it had faded within the cloud of the noise in my mind.

God created earth. He created light. He created the entire universe. And He created you and me. And this God who created all that exists seems to humble Himself enough to have His Spirit live within wretched little me! Why me? I’m such a messy place for Him to live. Look at all the crap He has to put up with, living within my clogged up and noisy mind, and with my broken and whinny soul. But He’s here!

This morning, the reality of the presence of God within me crashed over me as a wave of pure love. The actual infinite power of God is within me! Oh, I always know this (with my mind), but this morning I felt really aware of it – it is more than a thought, but an intense feeling.

Then my mind flashed upon this journey I’m on – to escape the stress of work and life, and to find true peace. And I thought about going to work today, WITH God who created all that exists!!! The wave of love and gratitude crashed over me again.

And the morning dread that usually churns within my belly as I get ready for work has been replaced with excited anticipation. What will God do today, through me, at work? Maybe He’ll keep me from throwing myself into the stress-pit. Or something bigger?

What might God do through you today? His Spirit lives within you too, if you believe Him and accept Him.

 

Day 26                    Day 28 →

 


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Escaping Stress

As a person who loves Jesus and thrives on His love for me, I really want to help show His love to other people. And I think the best way for me to do that is to be a light in this sometimes dark world. As Jesus said, “You are the light of the world … Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14, 16)

Well, I can’t do that when I’m all stressed out at work. When I let the stress of work pour into me, it fills me with darkness, and buries the light of Jesus under its quivering mass of dread (feeling poetic here). Anyway, when I let the stress take over, my co-workers know it. All light disappears and my mood gets dark.

But it gets better. For Jesus is gradually changing me. He’s showing me how the problems of work and life are meaningless, and that fulfillment comes from being His light, and shinning His love on other people. And He’s showing me how to let go of the things that stress me out.

It all starts with my quiet time with Him each morning. He fills me with His Spirit, pushing out all darkness. I may wake up and crawl out of bed dreading another day at work, but Jesus soon reminds me of what’s really important. It’s not success at work. It’s not accomplishments. It’s love; His love, shinning from His Spirit within me and pouring onto the people around me.

Do you dread today? Is the stress of life darkening your mood? Well, if so, then please join me on this journey to escape stress, even while living in the midst of it.

Day 1 


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Merry xxxxxxmas

Merry Christmas - not

Jesus said, “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)

Of course his prediction was true. Christians are persecuted. But why? Why do so many people attack Christianity and Christians? Why do so many people attack Christmas, and try to take “Christ” out of Christmas? You can’t call it Christmas anymore; instead call it the holidays. Can’t call it a Christmas tree; instead call it a holiday tree. It all seems silly to me, and I don’t understand what’s going on.

Yet, people usually attack something because they feel threatened by it. Could that be why Christianity is under attack, because some people feel threatened by Jesus? But if that’s the case, what’s so threatening about Jesus? If he’s a legend, as a lot of people claim, where’s the threat in a legend? Something that’s false can’t hurt you.

Maybe, and this is where I’m really using my imagination, people attack Christianity because deep inside themselves, something is telling them that Jesus is real and true.

What do you think is going on?


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The Spirit Speaks – Why Judge Others? I don’t

mercy over judgment

Judging others is a natural part of human weakness, a symptom of the plague of pride. Pride craves to be better than others, and so it judges. As all humans suffer from the scars of pride, so they also suffer from being judgmental; some more or less than others. It’s not something to be ashamed of; it just is.

But as humanity naturally judges, I, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, don’t. The final judgment for the sins of humanity was made long ago. All were found guilty. And I accepted the punishment. I paid the penalty with my life. Judgment is finished. All that remains, the only thing that counts, is faith. Do you believe me?

And as your faith in the triumph of the final judgment grows, your own judging behavior will diminish. For as faith grows, so grows humility. And as humility grows, pride withers. It’s so wonderful, how uncomplicated it all is. It may not be easy, but it’s simple. Just believe.

Now let’s go have a good day, together.


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Church for the Dechurched

Dechurched

Are you a dechurched Christian? I am. Survey’s show that there are millions of us American adults who once were active in a church, but attend no more. We are called the “dechurched.”

Yet there is a church for us. Though I don’t attend church on Sundays, every day can be a church day. Every day can be a day with God.

Jesus founded the church and then passed it onto the apostles. The apostle Paul defined the new church as follows: referring to Jesus, Paul declared, “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23, emphasis added)

The church is the collection of believers in which the Holy Spirit of Jesus lives… the body of Jesus Christ. As Paul also said, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? … for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

Church is not a building or manmade organization. Intimate and quiet time with the Spirit of God within you is what real church is about. As long as we look to the Spirit within us, we are not “dechurched.” We ARE the church.


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The Spirit Speaks – of Humanity

What do you think of humanity? If you were on the outside gazing in, how would it look to you? Beautiful, or sometimes ugly? I, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, have a unique perspective, for I am right in the midst of humanity, within the bodies of all who believe. Yet I’m also on the outside, with our Father in heaven.

To me, humanity looks broken. Evil, pain, anger, selfishness, and pride have consumed humanity. Though these things are not what I want for God’s children, they are just a part of human nature. Yet, even with all these flaws, God loves His children.

Our Father’s love is true love, for it is unaffected by behavior. You may get angry with your children, but you still love them. Yet as much as the most loving parent is able to love a wayward child, my Father and I love His children more, no matter how wayward they may be.

Yes, like you, God gets angry with the poor choices and evil behavior of his children, but His anger is always mixed with love and compassion. And God feels sorrow, for His misbehaving children are victims, victims of their own human nature.

When you look at humanity, do you get angry at people who exercise the flaws of their human nature? Do yourself a favor; please don’t let your own human flaws define your reaction. And mix your anger with love, compassion, and a bit of sorrow.

Here’s one more thought for you: what is a common human reaction when faced with unconditional love? Is it sometimes to improve behavior as a way to validate that love, and in a way… earn it? Well, this is how I hope God’s children will react when they come face-to-face with His unconditional love. And I’m here, within you, to help.


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Avoiding The Mess

garbage

Look at all the evil going on in the world. Then there’s selfishness, hate, anger, stress, fear, arrogance, bigotry… on and on. My personal opinion is that humanity is a big malignant mess. And since I’m a typical human, I only add to the mess, even when I try not to. It’s just part of my prideful human nature. I also think all the messes have their roots in our natural pride and selfishness. Yet, is there a way for me to live without adding to the mess? Yes.

That’s why I try to surrender my life to Jesus so that His Spirit can live through me. I want my “self” to step aside, making room for Jesus to fill me with His Self. Then, this person called CJ can be a part of humanity without adding to the mess. It’s not easy, for me anyway. But it’s my hope.

What do you think about this?


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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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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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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.


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Feeling Disconnected from God

reaching out to God

I have a Facebook friend whom I’ve never met, who recently posted this question to my FB page: “I haven’t been to church in 2 months and feel very disconnected from God. I’ve talked to my Pastor who says this is normal and all Christians go through this at some point or another. Any suggestions?”

Wow! As I read this, I felt a surge of nervousness rise up within me. Though I enjoy posting my personal experiences and such on my blog, I don’t feel qualified to give individual and personal advice. But my FB friend was asking for help. And I felt I should do my best to honor their request. So, this is what I said…

“I went through the same thing. So many doubts. My only suggestion is to find as much quiet time as you can to pray and try to feel the very presence of God within your self. This is what I did, and try to do every day. And when I find and truly feel the presence of the Holy Spirit within me – well, it’s the peace that goes beyond human understanding, that Jesus promised us. Yet for me, it seemed to take a long time to feel the Spirits presence; I tend to be a slow learner. But be persistent and never give up, as Jesus encouraged us to be.”

In looking back on this advice, which is not really advice from me but from Jesus, I believe it’s good everyday advice for all of us.

Do you feel disconnected from God? Follow Jesus’ advice, and seek Him with all your heart. And you will find Him there, within you.


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God Loves Homosexuals

Supreme court gay marriage

The Bible makes it clear what God thinks of homosexuality as a life style – God despises all sins, including homosexuality. Yet the Bible also makes it abundantly clear what God thinks of sinners. Though God despises sin, He loves sinners… as His children. Though God despises homosexuality as a life style, God loves homosexuals… as His children.

Look, I’m a sinner. I happen not to be homosexual, but I have plenty of other sins that I seem to daily re-visit. These sins are just part of who I am as a person. But my sinful personal nature does not affect God’s love for me. Even in the midst of my sinning, God loves me just as I am.

Are you homosexual? God loves you just as you are. The pain comes from too many of us focusing all our attention on the sin, and forgetting about the love. Let’s all hold onto God’s love, a love that heals all pain.

 

(First posted 4/1/15, but I felt like posting it again)