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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An Unexpected Power of Prayer

Be prepared for what answered prayer might do to you.

The text came in with bad news that caught us unprepared and threw my wife and me into shock. Later, more texts—the details that dribbled in just made us feel worse. Someone we know. Yet, there did seem to be room for hope. So I prayed. And what felt like a constricting snake in my stomach spent the day slowly rolling. That night, I fell asleep praying.

Next morning, on my knees, pouring my heart out to Jesus, begging, I mean intensely BEGGING him to step into the situation and do something that only He can do. Anything! All morning my heart was trembling. The snake rolled.

Noon, another text. NO! The outcome was certain, no more room for hope. The door had been slammed shut. The wave of shock returned and crashed over us.

We talked. “Just accept it. Stop hoping. It will be a bit easier that way.” Okay. So I let go of hope and started to try to accept the new reality. But no acceptance came. Just despair, and the feeling of the ever-present snake squirming in my stomach.

Later that evening, I puttered in the kitchen, struggling to get my mind to attach itself to something else … and trying to prepare dinner without cutting anything off an unwitting finger. And then another text. Oh crap. What now?

What!? The door was again open? There WAS still room for hope, much hope! The roller coaster started heading back up. But I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

The tremors began in my stomach as I rushed to my wife and we hugged. I quickly went back to turn off the stove so I wouldn’t burn dinner, for I sensed what was coming.

The tremors flowed up my esophagus, through my throat, and into my quivering chin. And then this internal volcanic wave of pure emotion exploded into a stream of tears and blubbering. I had no control. My nose sent a stream into my mustache. My eyes steamed hot with tears. Every muscle within seemed to tremble, every nerve seemed to fire. I felt wrapped in a soft blanket of joy. I clasped my hands over my face and leaned against the wall. I felt like a quivering mass of jelly.

And then the second wave hit—God DID answer the prayers! Jesus loves the people involved so much, that He stepped into the middle of the situation, wrap his arms around them, and did what only He can do! And the tears flowed stronger, and the blubbering grew louder. And my sense of being out of control of my emotions grew more intense. Good, I wanted to give control to God anyway.

To the heavens and any being that was listening, my heart screamed my love and praises for God and Jesus. Yet there was a layer of frustration on top of my joy, for the words of praise just didn’t feel like enough, not coming close to expressing my gratitude.

Since that day, the news has gotten better and the hope has grown more certain. But for someone who’s trying to put my faith into action with words, well, adequate words still won’t come to me. I don’t think there are words to express the magnitude of my gratitude and love for God and Jesus. Oh, how I wish I could.

By the way, I know God doesn’t answer all prayers as we hope He will. That’s not for me to understand right now. And I don’t want to think about unanswered prayers right now. I just want to tell you of one small example of how God’s love for us came alive, and showed itself in action.

I still want to shout out praises to God and Jesus … to the heavens and anyone who will hear me. That’s why I’m writing this now, in my feeble attempt to use written words to try to convey to you the magnitude of my gratitude and love for Jesus, and His love for us. As Paul said:

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Jesus’ love is so big, we can’t comprehend it. But we can feel it. I have.

 

Oh, and if you like, please check out my other website, my book website, where you can see something about my soon-to-be-published novel, We Called Him Yeshua. Yes, this novel is mainly about the love of Jesus, as expressed through his humanity while he walked the roads of first century Israel. Now there’s a great example of His love in action.


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Death to the Little Devil Within Me

Often, I feel like my personality is split in two—the good me, and the bad me. I’m like a character in a Saturday morning cartoon, with a little angel on one shoulder encouraging me to do the right thing, and a little devil on the opposite shoulder tempting me to do the wrong thing. Sometimes my little devil screams so loudly I can’t hear anything else.

But this morning I realized something. The little devil part of me is actually dead, having died when all sins died, with Jesus on the cross. When Jesus died, he took with him the sins of the world—those sins died with him. Those sins were the collection of the sinful side of everyone who chooses to believe, the collective of our little devils.

So, the devil that seems to exert power over my words and actions is not actually real, but a phantom, or maybe more like a lingering shadow of the sinful me that once thrived. And that shadow fades the more I let the light of the Spirit of Jesus shine within me.

This morning, for the first time, I see and believe in the image of my little devil as dead, sent to the abyss where Jesus took all our sins. It feels so freeing to say that. I’ve prayed for the death of my sinful self for a long time.

I suspect I’ll backslide, and the phantom shadow will con me into believing it has real power over me. But now I feel armed with the reminder that the little sh*t-disturber is powerless and dead.

Here’s what Jesus and the apostle Paul had to say:

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

 “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)

 “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. … In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:6, 11)

What do you think about all this?

Oh, and if you’re interested, please check out my soon-to-be-published book, We Called Him Yeshua.


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More Human than Others

I believe Jesus Christ was more human than many people are. I’m thinking of those religious zealots who self-righteously try to be more divine than human. These people deny their flawed humanity, and believe they are divinely perfect, or at least closer to perfection than the rest of us slobs slogging it out in the trenches of this fractured, sin-filled life.

However, Jesus embraced his humanity, and seemed to deny his divinity, at least at certain times during his journey on earth. Just look at the most common way He referred to himself: son of man. He wanted us to remember his humanity, not just his divinity.

For me, knowing something about Jesus’ humanity helps me feel closer to him, for He knows what I go through. After all, he was one of us.


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Mom, Dad, 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]

Are you a parent? Tricky business, that. Not for the faint of heart, they say—that’s a classic understatement.

I’m a father of two sons, who thankfully have survived to be respectable, honorable adults, despite all the mistakes I made in trying to help get them there. But looking back on that journey, though sometimes painful, can also be really interesting.

With only a few minutes of thought, here are some of the traits I think are important to being a parent:

  • Knowing when to let them fall down and skin their knee.
  • Knowing when to let the child lose. Falsely giving a child the impression they can always be a winner by making sure everyone gets a soccer trophy is just setting them up for major problems later, when the truth of life smacks them in the face.
  • Knowing when to hold back and let the child make a mistake. Cliché warning: we learn from our mistakes, hopefully.
  • Knowing when to let the child get a bad grade in a class by not doing their homework for them. That is, knowing when to let the child learn about the consequences of their action, or inaction.
  • Knowing when to keep your mouth shut.
  • And the list goes on.

Few of us parents have all these skills, and the others I can’t think of. But there is one, the only one, who is the perfect parent.

Well, yah, sure … I mean God. But I now ask you to take a look at God with these questions in mind:

  • Is life sometimes really hard for you?
  • Do you wonder why some of your prayers go unanswered?
  • Do you wonder why good people, even God-loving people, die young?
  • Do you wonder, if there is a God, how can he allow all the evil and mayhem that’s consuming the world?

Maybe the answer is partly because God is the perfect parent. He knows when to hold back and not step into our lives, allowing us to make our own mistakes. He knows not to butt in where He’s not invited.

And why would He do this, anyway? Maybe because He’s hoping we will finally realize we just can’t handle this mortal life on our own, and the only way we can cope is to give up trying and turn to Him to help us … turn to Him to love us.

What do you think?


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Another Day, Another … ah Hell

I don’t want to write about it … but I am, compelled by something, maybe someone. Another day, another mass shooting(s). I could probably post this on any random day and it would apply. But today, it feels like the fabric of humanity is ripping apart, or that’s how it feels to me, whatever the fabric of humanity is. In El Paso. And Dayton.

What do I want? Answers? Escape. Escape from the tragedy, the torment, the pain of it all. Today I feel helpless to help—I can’t even help myself. I can’t free myself from that ripping feeling in my gut.

So, quiet place, close eyes, breathe, slowly. Go inside, and look. There’s Jesus—his Spirit within me, always here, always waiting. He smiles—a sad, compassionate smile. He holds out his arms, I fall in, and my soul weeps, his arms wrapping around me, comforting me. And we mourn together. And I feel it—His love that heals wounds, and his peace.

Oh Lord, please help. So many people, so much pain, so many out there, in Texas, in Ohio, hurting, wailing, shattered.

If you’re reading this and you too are hurting, maybe look inside yourself, to your soul, living just below the surface. And more than your soul, you may see His Spirit there, waiting, smiling, maybe even crying, for this hurts him too. And maybe the two of you can hold each other, and cry together, just below the surface, His Spirit and your soul.

And no matter what’s going on elsewhere in the world, in your little world you can have some peace, and love. And if enough of us surround ourselves with the love that comes from Jesus living inside us, it may spread to others. I think that would help.

Will the mass shootings stop? I doubt it. Humanity is too broken. But maybe we aren’t helpless to help, for the help just might already live inside of each of us, waiting for us to look His way.

 

The ways of the world aren’t helping, so maybe it’s time to look beyond the world.


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Beware the Word

I had a weird experience this morning. I haven’t spent much time reading the Bible for the past several years. But during my typical predawn praying, with my cup of coffee—trying to wake up my soul and mind at the same time—the thought popped into my head to start reading the gospels again.

So, I grabbed my Bible and turned to Matthew. But just as I started, another thought popped in:

      Beware.

      “Beware of what?”

      Beware of the Bible.

      “What!?”

Beware of worshipping the written Word more than God and Jesus. Beware of spending more time in the written word than you spend with the Holy Spirit of Jesus within you.

Wow! Not what I’d expected as I thumbed through the well-worn pages to find the words Matthew had written. But was that God speaking to me, or just my inner thoughts?

I don’t know where those thoughts came from, but I know this: the words of God and Jesus recorded in the Bible are great and nothing will diminish their greatness. But for me, quiet time with the Spirit of Jesus is greater; surrendering my time, thoughts, and “self” to God is greater; feeling the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit is greater; feeling the fulfillment of Jesus’ promises within me is greater.

The Bible is great, but Jesus is greater.

What do you think?


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How Does God Feel About You?

How does God feel about you? How does Jesus feel about you?

In my quiet time this morning, while trying to empty my chaotic mind of the usual crap that steals my thoughts, I found myself thinking of someone I dearly love, and imploring God to help them as they go through a tough time right now. My friend really needs Gods help, because they don’t know God or Jesus, and they’re trying to deal with life alone. Then I felt something. And I think it was God, showing me how He feels about the person I was praying for. I’ll try to show you.

How does a parent feel about their newborn baby? For me, it was a long time ago, but the memories remain vivid. My arms ached to hold my son, to gently squeeze him to my chest, and pour all the love I could muster into him, somehow filling him with my love. The words escape me still. I can’t find a good way to express the love I felt for my newborn son, and the magnitude of love I wanted to give to him. I never wanted to let him go.

I still don’t. Both my sons are now several years on their own, both leading their own lives. And my arms still ache for them. My love hasn’t diminished—only been calmed a bit by the years. But I miss the days when they were small enough to lay on my chest and drool onto my ever-smiling face, as my arms squeezed them close.

Can God love less? I don’t think so.

Maybe what I felt this morning is true. Maybe more than anything God wants to wrap His arms around you, protect you, care for you, and pour His love into you, with a love that words cannot express. And like any true-loving parent, Gods love for you does not depend on how you feel about Him. Try picturing that in your mind. How does it make you feel?