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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Happy Birthday Dad

happy birthday

As I sat in front of my computer this morning, with coffee in hand, I looked at the date on the bottom-right of the monitor and remembered that today is my dad’s birthday. He died almost two years ago. Some tears quickly came to my eyes. Not many, just one tear actually. I didn’t cry the day he died, or since, until this morning. The tear surprised me.

I felt I should pray for dad, though at first I didn’t know what to pray for. I don’t know where he was in his relationship with Jesus, so I asked God to show him some mercy – that’s always a good prayer. Then my mind went back to the tear. Why was it so hard for me to feel emotion over my dad’s death? Look, he wasn’t a great dad, but he was my dad, and though I believe I’ve forgiven him for past hurts, my emotions just don’t reflect forgiveness.

Then I think God dropped this message into my mind: “If you want Me to show your dad mercy, won’t don’t you show Him mercy? Let go of the pain that’s holding back the tears. There is love behind the damned up tears. Let it all flow.”

I love how God sometimes steps into the middle of my thoughts and shakes me up a bit. Though my dad was only human, with normal human flaws, my heavenly Dad fills in all the empty places… with His love. And I’m so grateful.

Happy Birthday dad.


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Wounded, but Healing

wounds healed

The Facebook group For Wounded Christians – a Place for Healing, has me thinking about my wounds lately. What do my scars look like?

Up to my mid-thirties, I believed what most churches had been telling me, that I had to earn my way into heaven with good behavior. For some reason, this turned me off from Christianity. I don’t know why.

Then, someone gave me a book by Billy Graham. I don’t remember who gave me the book. I don’t remember the title of the book. I think I long ago lost the book. But for the first time in my life I read something in that book that shocked me. Billy Graham told me WHY Jesus died on the cross. Billy told me that Jesus paid the price for all my bad behavior. Billy told me that I didn’t have to earn my way into heaven – all I had to do was believe in the truth of what Jesus did for me, and accept the gift of salvation that Jesus offers me.

This truly shocked me. It was in direct conflict with all I had heard up to that point in my life. Salvation isn’t a reward for good behavior, but rather a gift, generously offered to all who have the faith to simply accept it.

I still remember that feeling of shock. It was then that my wounds started to heal.


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“Sorry” from the Holy Spirit within

Im sorry

“I’m sorry.” It’s maybe not too difficult to say, but often very hard to sincerely mean. There have been times when I’ve been able to force it out of my mouth, but something leaves a bitter feeling in my heart. I believe that’s the insincerity of my apology, irritating me like an itchy scab.

I came across a good blog post this morning about the difficulties some of us have with sincerely apologizing to God for our sins… repentance. (see it here). Why is it hard for Christians to sincerely repent?

For me, it takes true humility to admit our mistakes and repent, or tell a friend we are sorry. That’s why repentance is so difficult, because humility is not part of our prideful human nature. I believe the remedy for our lack of repentance is to focus our attention on the Holy Spirit, rather than on “self.” And if we can muster enough humility to let the Spirit into our lives, He will show us the path to true humility… and true repentance.

Yet, we shouldn’t stress about our lack of repentance. We should instead focus on our relationship with the Holy Spirit. He will then lead us to repentance.


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Forgiveness or Misery

scale

It takes humility to really forgive, to take your eyes off your SELF long enough to waive goodbye to the hurt. I found myself thinking about forgiveness yesterday – don’t know why. I guess I was just struck with the thought that everyone needs forgiveness of something. And it seems like there’s not enough humility to counter the hurtful acts needing forgiveness.

Then this new thought crashed into my Sunday-slumbering mind: humanity, by our sinful and prideful human nature, is all messed up. It’s just part of who we are. Therefore, by our nature, we will all hurt others, intentionally or not. And we will all create a need for forgiveness.

Then this thought hit me: for those who cannot learn to forgive others, they are doomed to a life of unforgiving misery, for there will ALWAYS be hurt needing forgiveness.

Maybe look at it this way: visualize an old-fashioned scale with the cross-arm and a bowl hanging off each end. In one bowl are all the hurtful acts that need forgiveness. In the other bowl is our capacity to forgive. The hurtful bowl is overflowing – again, it’s just who we are as humans. The forgiveness bowl is often nearly empty. Our life is out of balance, unless we are able to increase our capacity to forgive.

God can give us that capacity, if we desire. God can show us the futility of holding a grudge, since humanity will always create hurt. God can bring balance to our life.


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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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Are you a wounded Catholic?

Healing wounded

Sometimes I rant about the dealings of the Catholic Church. I truly apologize if I have offended anyone. But I have seen the effects of the shortcomings of the Catholic Church up close. I know many wounded Catholics, those who had belonged to the Catholic Church, maybe even since birth, yet left with bad experiences. My stepfather, stepbrother, and many close friends are among them.

Yet in the case of my stepfather, he didn’t leave by choice; he was kicked out because of the sin of his divorce from his first wife. It distresses me that though Jesus has forgiven my stepfather, the Catholic Church cannot.

My heart breaks for those wounded Catholics, like my stepfather, who are not able to find their way to another church. All his life my stepfather was told that the Catholic Church is the only one, true church. And when that church failed him, where can he go? He has gone nowhere, and remains lost.

If you are a “wounded” Catholic, having given up on the Catholic Church, please don’t give up on Jesus. He still loves you, and always will. God, as our ultimate and perfect Father, loves all His children, no matter what church they may go to.

 


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Weird Catholic Rules

[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]


 

A few years ago my father, who was never really a church-goer, decided to join the Catholic Church, the church of my step-mother. I was pleased my dad was showing signs of faith, but my pleasure turned to dismay after I got the call from my mom. As part of my fathers’ application process, or whatever you go through to join the Catholic Church, the church mailed a stack of forms to my mother for her to fill out and sign. What the forms boiled down to was the annulment of the marriage of my parents. Since this would have resulted in my sisters and me being effectively declared illegitimate, my mom respectfully declined and tossed the forms in the trash.

Fortunately for my dad (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view), the Catholic Church still allowed him to join, even without my moms signature – I guess my dads signature was enough to wipe from the record his divorce from my mom.

You see, that’s what the process was all about… the church had to first cleanse my father of his divorce record, before they would allow him to join. But the message goes beyond just divorce. The implication is that you cannot join the Catholic Church unless you have no visible sins attached to you. Since divorce is a sin, you have to void the divorce by voiding the marriage. I’m sure I’m over-generalizing, but you get my point.

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I have several concerns about this whole episode. First of all, maybe my parents’ marriage didn’t happen in the eyes of the Catholic Church (after all the forms were filled out), but God witnessed that first marriage; a marriage that began with oaths to Him, and produced three children. The Catholic Church may choose to ignore the truth, but God certainly will not. My real concern is this: does the Catholic Church believe that God will close His eyes, just because they choose to?

Second, divorce is clearly a sin – Jesus said so. We all sin – Jesus said so. But the story of our sins is not twisted in a way that makes it look like there was no sin (as the Catholic Church has twisted the story of my parents’ marriage). With Jesus, acceptance is far simpler than that. With Jesus we are accepted into His church not because of some manipulated image of sinlessness, but because of our faith – Jesus said so.

Third, so we are accepted into Jesus’ church not by being sinless, but by having faith and being repentant of the sins we do have. Yet the Catholic Church appears to have a higher standard.

The fourth thing that bothers me is this concept of the Catholic Church cleansing my father of past sins. There is no action by man that can clean someone of their sins, or hide their sins, or pretend their sins never happened. Jesus is the only one who can do this, and he’s already done it, by dying for our sins on the cross. Yet the Catholic Church appears to believe that they are the ones who must clean us of our sins before we can be presented to Jesus.

And finally, all of my concerns boil down to this: the Catholic Church appears not to believe in the grace of God. They appear not to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. They appear not to believe that we are forgiven because of our faith, not by anything we may do.