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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Escape

Fog oozed into the grove of trees, dripping off the leaves, filling the air with the pungent smell of eucalyptus. Dead skin-like bark littered the ground, making it hard to creep silently through the old cemetery. But creep I did, hiding behind a head stone, looking for my chance.

He lurked out in the open part of the hillside cluster of graves, looking behind each head stone, statue, and crypt, determined to find me, and the others. But, could any of us get away?

My only chance was with the granite statue in the middle of the cemetery, the tallest statue there. That’s where my freedom lay, waiting for me to grab it. I just had to get there without him seeing me. For if he spotted me, I was dead, just another resident of that fog shrouded cemetery.

He was getting closer. My heart raced. I tried not to breathe. Then, a noise, farther up the hill, one of the others most likely. A careless step, that’s all it took. Too bad for them, but it gave me the opening I needed.

He changed course and headed for the noise. I crept to another hiding spot, just a bit closer to the statue. He took a few more steps up the hill. Then, as he stepped behind a crypt, out of sight, I made my move. Running low, from one head stone to the next, I dashed for the statue, stealing glances toward the crypt. Closer. Closer. Then …

“Base!” I yelled, touching the statue and screaming out my freedom. Oh, I loved a good game of hide and seek.

I miss those days, so long ago. Though the Vietnam War was raging, we were oblivious. Our grammar school lives revolved around fun, and we had lots of it. I sometimes wish I could get that feeling back.

Many years later, maybe forty, I saw more meaning in our games of hide and seek. The cemetery was our favorite place, and that same statue was always the base. But then I remembered; it was a statue of Jesus Christ, holding out his hands in a very welcoming gesture. I now see Jesus as my “base,” my source of freedom—freedom from fear, from worry, from anxiety, from depression. And my source of escape from the world—whenever I need a break, he’s there, arms out, welcoming me.

 

And now a thought for anyone who feels they don’t know Jesus, but currently know too well feelings of anxiety, etc..

Look, there’s a lot of s#*t going on in the world right now. I don’t need to elaborate. But, without sounding like some Bible-thumping evangelist, I encourage you to look for help. And maybe the help you need can’t come from the world. After all, it’s the world and all the s#*t that’s the source of our worries. Please consider looking outside the world.

Maybe Jesus isn’t the kind of help you want. But if you think he might be, and you’d like to learn something about him, please check this out (link to cjpenn.com). Maybe it could be a good place to start.


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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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Driven by Passion

Someone recently asked me what passions fuel my writing. What drives me to get up around 4:00am each morning to write before I leave for work? Well, there are two primary passions underlying everything I write, and these passions are fueled by my relationship with God and Jesus.

First, I’m passionate about truth, as I sometimes don’t see the truth in messages coming from some of today’s churches. Also, I’m passionate about a personal, intimate relationship with God and Jesus, through their Holy Spirit. I believe what Jesus said and promised, about the Spirit living within us. I believe He said this as more than something symbolic, but as a vivid reality, something available to all who chose to believe. Yet, I see so little mention of the truth of the Holy Spirit in today’s churches.

Because of these passions, my current book, We Called Him Yeshua, is at its core, about having a very personal, one-on-one relationship with the Spirit of Jesus who lives inside each of us who believe. My hope is that by coming to see the human side of Jesus, which is a major theme of the book, people will more easily relate to Him, and feel closer to Him. And in feeling this way, my hope is they will then look for Jesus inside themselves, and find His Spirit waiting for them there.


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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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Feel Like Giving Up? Good

Based on a very unscientific poll—okay, I only talked with one person—I think I see one reason why some people end up leaving the Christian church. A very close friend of mine left the church many years ago because, “I just felt it didn’t have any impact on my life. It made no difference. Whether I went or not, I felt unchanged.”

I’ve pondered that response for many years, and it just triggered a new thought in my ever-wandering mind. Consider the general message that flows out of most Christian churches: sin no more, love your neighbor as God loves you, God gives grace to the humble, forgive as God forgives you, etc. It all sounds great, and most Christians aspire to live up to these ideals.

But, we fail. We try, we struggle, we pray for help, we may succeed a little at times, but then we fall back into our natural ways, and fail. Maybe we try some more, and again we fail. Finally, after continuous failure, many give up. And some leave Christianity, or just the church.

Think about it this way: The church tells me to live these ideals, and I embrace the idea. But the church didn’t help me achieve these ideals. So forget it. If the church can’t help me do what they’ve told me to do, then I’m outta there.

In this way, the church may seem no different than the diet “doctor” who promises I’ll lose this volley ball of belly fat simply by following his exercise plan for 8 minutes a day, plus an eating plan that would starve a hamster. Though the exercise is easy and practical, the eating plan is impossible, for me anyway. Much like me trying to be humble by my own strength.

Back to Christianity, I don’t think it’s the responsibility of the church to take my hand and walk me down the path that leads to love, humility, forgiveness, and holiness. I believe all the church can do is show me the path.

But how can I walk the path alone? I’ve tried, a lot. And of course, I always fail. I wonder off the path and fall into the pit that lines both sides—the pit of pride, envy, selfishness, greed, hate, worry, fear… the pit of human nature. I think it’s impossible for me to stay on the path to holiness, for my human nature keeps grabbing my legs and pulling me down into the pit. So what am I to do?

Well, as Jesus said, what’s impossible with man is possible with God.

The only way to follow the path is to walk it with the Holy Spirit. Yet what does that mean? I think the answer is clear, yet hard (very hard for me). We need to recognize our faults and weaknesses and HUMBLY accept we cannot do this on our own. We need to give up. Along with that, we need to feed our relationship with Jesus, getting to know Him more and more, growing ever closer to Him, until our love for Him, and our hate for our human nature, overflows and drives us to our knees. Then, and this is the best part, we need to surrender to Jesus.

But what’s surrender mean? Well, for me it means to deny my “self,” empty myself of me, and let the Holy Spirit of Jesus fill this person called CJ. Then the Spirit can propel me forward, down that path that leads to true life.

And it’s a daily effort. My typical day starts like this: “Jesus, I give up. I can’t do this on my own. My selfish Self keeps getting in the way. So forget it. I’m going to stop trying. Instead, I’m going to turn my back on my Self, and give me to you. I can’t do this stuff, so YOU do it. You take control. Fill me with Your Spirit and You walk the path, as me. You must become greater, I want to become nothing. But, I’d sure like to hang around and watch what you do through me. Thanks.”

Yet we all need to beware that our prideful nature will fight back. For me, there are two distinct personalities that make up this person called CJ: the me that loves God and Jesus with all my heart, and the “self” me who is concerned with only the desires of myself. I feel like the cartoon character with a little angle on one shoulder, and a little devil on the other, each trying their best to influence my actions. The little devil in me wins too often.

Look, I could go on for hours about this, but if you’re interested in this thing called surrender, I recommend you read a book called Absolute Surrender, by Andrew Murray. Other than the Bible, this has been the most impactful book in my life.

And I sincerely wish you success as you walk down that path that leads to true life.


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To Church, or Not to Church, That is the Question

“So, where do you go to church?” I use to hate that question. It’s been ten years since I attended the Presbyterian Church in town, and still, I run across people I sat next to in those pews, but haven’t seen since then. We bump into each other in the grocery store or coffee shop, and they always ask, “So CJ, where do you go to church now?”

I always felt awkward replying to the question, for I haven’t attended a regular church since leaving Presby. Oh, in my early days as a de-churched orphan, I test-drove other churches in town, but for reasons I don’t totally understand, I never felt like going back.

So my answer to the question usually starts with, “Well, um, you see. I don’t go to church. Haven’t since leaving Presby.”

My inquisitor usually gets that look, maybe you’ve seen it. Their face fills with concern and fear for my soul. They immediately believe I’ve left Christianity and jumped into the black pit of heathendom.

“However,” I truthfully add, “I feel closer to Jesus and God now than I ever have before.”

The look changes from concern and fear to confusion. How could that be, how could someone find closeness to God and Jesus without attending church? My fellow pew-sitter from the past and I usually part ways, with them still wondering about my soul (I suspect), and me felling I didn’t get my message across.

But now I have a better answer to the question.

Where do I go to church? Well, my Church doesn’t have a name, and there is no building. For me, Church is not a place—it’s a belief. When do I go to church? Whenever I want, and it’s not just Sunday. I go to church every day, any time of the day, whenever I can wrestle my thoughts away from the outside world and look inside, to Jesus within me.

Jesus tells us in the Bible that Church, the one true Church, is wherever His Spirit lives. In the Old Testament times, the Spirit of God resided in the Temple, in the back room called the Holy of Holies. But Jesus changed all that.

As He said, His Spirit now lives within all who believe in Him and believe what He promised. He promised that His Spirit would be IN us, and we IN Him. You’ve heard the phrase, you body is a Temple. So true, if you believe.

Look inside, to the Spirit of Jesus within you, and you will find the one true Church.

 

Here are some of my favorite Bible verses on the subject:

Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14:23)

He also said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

“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 are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)

“And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:22)

“But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (Hebrews 3:6)

As Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” (John 15:4)


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Nothing Never Felt So Good

If I empty myself of pride and selfishness, and fill myself with humility; if I deny my Self and let Jesus fill me with His Spirit; if I am nothing, and Jesus is all within me, then there is nothing for Satan to fight for.

And with no spiritual battle raging for my soul, with Satan defeated and the battle over, there is peace. And with Self no longer striving to have everything it’s way, Stress is defeated and its battle is over, and there is peace. Being nothing never felt so good.

As John the Baptist once said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

Dear God, I pray for the peace of becoming nothing, and the Spirit of Jesus becoming all within me.