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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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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A Love in His Image

Painfully obvious fact: being a parent isn’t always easy. A parent’s love for their children can be so huge, it almost hurts. And as I think about it, this parent-child relationship is really unique.

Yesterday was my younger son’s 26th birthday, and I thought about our relationship a lot during the day. I thought about the bond we have. I believe this bond is partly rooted in the mundane fact that he is biologically made up of parts of his mom and me – his DNA comes from us. I think it’s that biological bond that feeds my emotional bond… somehow.

Whether it’s the DNA thing or something else that creates this bond, the feeling is real and often intense. I sometimes don’t know how to express the love I feel for my sons, a love that I think gets a lot of its strength from this bond we have.

But why does this kind of love sometimes hurt – where’s the pain come from? Well, for me the pain comes from this bond that craves closeness. And as my sons have grown into men and launched off into lives out on their own, we’re never close enough. My love wants my little boy back, where I can cradle him in my arms, toss him in the air, and delight in his infectious giggle.

Being a parent can be difficult and painful and weird… and absolutely fantastic!

Okay, now what about God… our spiritual Parent? Since we were made in His image, our love is an image of His love – a blurry and weak reflection of God’s true love. Imagine the strength of the bond He feels with us. Imagine the love He feels for His children, and the pain of that love. Imagine the magnitude of His craving for closeness.

How does that make you feel?


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Great is God’s Love

Gods love

I was a bit trouble-prone as a young boy. Like the time in my bedroom when I nailed my blankets and sheets to my dresser, the walls, and anything that would hold a nail. It was the most awesome tent ever. And then several years later, there was the New Years Eve when I blew up the neighbors mailbox with a barrel bomb. It was so cool how all the rivets blew out, but the swollen shell still stood on the post. Though my mom was always disappointed and usually angry about my fun-filled pranks, I never doubted her love for me.

The most loving parents feel love for their child no matter what. Such is God’s love for His children. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)


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What is God’s purpose in His relationship with you?

I never understood the sadness until my own children were grown and out on their own. Yet my mom gave me a preview of coming emotions. She showed me how sad she could get every time I left her after a weekend visit. I thought she was being overly emotional. But I now share her feelings whenever my sons leave after a weekend home.

My purpose in my relationship with my sons has evolved as they’ve grown from babies into men. But one thing that never changes is my overwhelming desire to be with them and to show my love for them. God shares this desire in His relationship with you.

God’s’ singular purpose is unconditional love. Love is why He sent His Son to fulfill justice, while rescuing you from your own mistakes, yet forgiving you when you fall and helping you get back on your feet again. Love is why God helps you stand in the face of life’s storms. God’s purpose is to be your loving Father and for you to be His child. God’s purpose is to be your ultimate parent and to fill your hungry soul.


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Parenting Class

parenting class

MANY years ago, when my first son was a toddler, my wife and I went to a parenting class at our church. Actually, we took turns each week, with one of us staying home with our son. Yet even with just attending sporadically, I learned things that became part of my foundation for how to be a good parent.

I’d now like to teach a parenting class, where we would look at God as our roll model of a truly good parent. Here are some aspects of God’s parenting style that would be helpful for all parents…

  • Always forgiving
  • Unconditional love for all His children
  • No favorites
  • Gives His all for His children – He even sacrificed His only natural Son for His adopted children.
  • Always there, willing to listen
  • He lets His children learn by their own mistakes.
  • No spoiled brats in God’s family. There are be consequences for bad behavior.
  • He’s always there to help us with our homework.
  • He looks out for His children’s future, even if they don’t.

What else can you think of?


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Today is still yesterday

Just a silly thought for some Friday fun…

My friend Josh just came up to me and said he didn’t get any sleep last night, again. He has a brand new baby daughter – now you see why he got no sleep. He then said, “So today is still yesterday.” I found that tickling and I wanted to share it. And Josh said I could. I hope you have a fun Friday, and weekend. CJ


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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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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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Out of work and in despair? – a follow-up

Do you believe you aren’t good enough for God to care? Well, God does care, just like a loving parent. But like a parent, God knows when to hold back and not interfere in your life.

A wise parent, when observing their adult child struggling with a problem, may themselves struggle with the desire to jump in and help find a solution. But the wise parent will hold back and wait. They wait for their child to either find their own solution, or admit they cannot, and finally ask for help.

God is the wisest of parents. He will not interfere; He will not help you until and unless you ask. The real power behind asking is this: in asking you exhibit a humility that admits you cannot do it alone, and you exhibit a faith in God that shows you believe in Him. Of course, asking is power-less unless you ask with humility and faith. I once wrote a post on asking God for help. I really hope you check it out (see it here).

And no matter what you may have done in the past, no matter how “good” or “bad” you think you may be, God loves you and He wants to help you. Yet it’s critical that you realize what’s important is faith, not how good or bad you are.

“A person is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:15-16)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Help from God does not come from obedience to His laws, but rather by faith in His son. We do not become “right” by doing right; this is because none can do right always, there are none without sin. Therefore, our only hope is faith.

Being right in God’s eyes; being “good” in God’s eyes comes from faith in Jesus Christ, not obedience. Do you feel you are not good enough? Do you feel you are not worthy of God’s love? Being “good” and being “worthy” are not what’s required. The only thing that counts is faith.

During this holiday season, if you are down and in despair, please look to God and put your trust and faith in Him. And with humility and faith, ask Him to help you out of your despair.

I wish you a truly Merry Christmas.


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What inspires you to obey?

They threaten eternal damnation in hell, if you don’t obey God. They claim that God actually hates you, unless you obey Him. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of them on the Internet or in the news, with their picket signs that say “God hates you,” and other such vulgar declarations. Promoting obedience through condemnation and fear; how effective is that I wonder.

Personally, I never responded very well to threats. If my parents threatened me with punishment when I was a misbehaving child, I might end up obeying them, but it was rather reluctantly. My obedience did not come from my heart – it came from fear. I wonder; is that the kind of obedience God desires? Or does He want our heart, as well as our head?

How did Jesus promote obedience?

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12) Obedience appears to come from faith. Jesus preached faith, knowing that love and obedience will be fruits of that faith. Throughout the gospels, Jesus tells us that it is faith that leads to salvation. Not once did He say, “Your obedience has set you free.” With Jesus, it was all about faith. Why? Perhaps because He knows that it first requires faith to follow His command of love. After all, how can you love if you really don’t believe in the one who is calling you to love?

Now what does Jesus have to say about the relationship between love and obedience?

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” (John 14:21)

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.” (John 14:23)

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

And what does Jesus command? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

Back to my original question: how did Jesus promote obedience? The answer is to first promote faith and love. Our sincere love for God and Jesus will grow from our faith in God and Jesus. And out of our love will blossom obedience. Why did I obey my mother when I was a teenager? It was not out of fear (my mother never used threats); it was out of love. I loved her too much to hurt her by being disobedient. I believe it’s the same in our relationship with God.

Also, please consider Jesus’ response when asked what the greatest commandment is. Did He say the greatest commandment is to obey? No, He said the greatest commandment is to love God. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-38) Jesus knows that out of love, obedience will follow.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” “I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” (1 John: 7-8, 11-12, 15-21) (2 John 5-6)


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A love that doesn’t give up

I never followed them on their visits to the prison. But the pain in their faces, as they later told me how my brother was fairing, showed how heart wrenching those visits had been. My adopted brother refused to accept the love of my parents. Contrary to their efforts to love him and “save” him, my brother ended up following a path that landed him in prison, where he has been, off and on, for the past 25 years or so.

My parents’ love has been real and sincere, yet it wasn’t enough to save my brother from a life of crime. My brothers’ heart remained shut, like those prison doors. Yet my parents’ hearts remained open; still pouring their love on my brother, as you might pour water on a thirsty man who refuses to drink.

I like to compare parents’ relationships with their children, to Gods relationship with us. As our heavenly parent, God wants to love us and save us. And contrary to His efforts, many of us refuse to accept His love. Yet like my parents, God doesn’t give up.

I have seen the pain my parents endured, and continue to endure, by loosing their son to crime and prison. Imagine the pain God must feel for every one of us who turn our backs on His love? But like the father in the story of the prodigal son, God never takes His eyes off the horizon, looking for us to return to Him.

You see, God doesn’t love us because we first loved Him. God’s love comes first: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)


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Win or Lose – It’s up to You

This is a story of two teenage girls. They lived in different parts of the country and had no way of knowing each other, yet they had this in common: they were both about to celebrate their 18th birthday. And they had another thing in common; they both had loving parents who wanted to help them celebrate their birthdays in a particular and coincidentally identical manner.

One day Jenna’s parents came to her and asked what she would like most for her birthday. Jenna knew the generosity of her parents, and so she excitedly told them that more than anything, she wanted her own car. It was then no surprise to her when they smiled and said, “Let’s go shopping for one.” Jenna spent the next several weeks leading up to her birthday dreaming about her new car. She knew exactly which car she was getting; they picked it out that very first day they went shopping. Yet the deal was she had to wait until her birthday before she could actually have it. She later reflected that the delay was kind of fun, in that it was a time filled with excited anticipation. She so enjoyed visualizing herself driving her car around town.

Becky, like Jenna, was offered a new car by her parents, for her birthday gift. Yet Becky’s response was totally different. Becky was not an unusual teenage girl, in that she could sometimes exhibit interesting and challenging moods. And on the day her loving parents offered her a brand new car for her birthday, Becky responded with disbelief, rather than joy and excitement. In fact, Becky told her parents directly that she just didn’t believe they would actually give her such an expensive gift. Becky’s parents had previously been excited about how Becky might respond, but now they were crushed and very disappointed. In the end, they decided not to give Becky the car. After all, since she really didn’t believe, why bother. Becky never saw the irony in the fact that she received exactly what she expected to receive – nothing.

What does this story have to do with the types of things I typically talk about on this blog? If you’ve read the past couple of posts, “Anything you want – just ask” and “Is God Santa Claus?“, you’ll see the connection.

I believe that Becky is a representation of most of us, in how we pray to God. Jesus told us to just believe that God will give us what we ask for, and it will be ours. Yet as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes it just seems too hard to believe that God would be so generous. We receive exactly what we expect to receive – nothing.

Our Father God is not unlike the two sets of parents in today’s story. He loves us and he wants to give us what we ask for. Yet He’s wiser than most parents. He will only give us what is good for us, what will help us grow and find true joy. So don’t expect God to give you a car that may offer you temporary happiness but no lasting joy. But PLEASE ask God for what you desire most, and know with certainty that as your most loving parent, He wants to give it to you, and He WILL give it to you, if you truly believe.

“Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)