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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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.


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Cooking With God

God is like the dad about to fix dinner. If he does it by himself, it will turn out perfect. But God takes the harder route, by asking for help from his children. The kitchen will get real messy, and the food will be somewhere between barely edible and mediocre. Yet the child will not only learn how to cook, but be excited to help dad in the kitchen.

God could achieve His mission without our help. Yet He seeks our help not for him, but for us. It’s all for us.

 


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More Than a Battlefield

Do you ever feel like there is an ongoing battle raging within you? Do you feel two sides of your personality fighting it out? Each side has opposite purposes, and each is trying to win control over you—right? Does it feel like those old cartoons, with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, each trying to convince you to go their way?

Does it sometime feel like YOU are a battlefield?

I’m listening to an audio version of the book The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis. Have you ever read it? Great book. And fun, as well as a bit weird. But it definitely has gotten me thinking. I think I’ve believed in the reality of Satan for as long as I’ve believed in the reality of God. And at times I’ve believe in the battle between the two of them.

But now I’m convinced that I am one of their battlefields. And I’m tired of it. Oh, I know—it’s part of life. Whether we believe or not, the battle rages on. And I think not believing is the most dangerous policy, for it gives the advantage to Satan.

Anyway, I want to see if I can affect the game a bit. I want to be more than just the battlefield. I want to make more of an effort to join the fight, on the side of God.

What do you think about this battle idea?


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Looking at Love Through a Cardboard Tube

Under weird circumstances I stumbled across these verses in Ephesians: “I pray that you may grasp the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, abbreviated)

I found myself wondering about the magnitude of Jesus’ love for us. Why does His love “surpass knowledge?” Why is it hard to comprehend the truth and scope of Jesus’ love? This is what I believe:

First, Jesus loves like no other human. For example, my love (being solely human), is marred by my natural human flaws. My love is polluted by my pride and selfishness. Why do I love someone? Well, there is always a reason, such as they are funny, friendly, attractive in some other way, etc. I need a reason… it’s just how my emotions and mind work. It seems harsh to me, but my love is motivated by “what’s in it for me?”

Yet for Jesus, He needs no reason to love. He has no flaws to mar His love for others. He loves because He is the Son of God, and He can do no less than the same as His Father.

Also, Jesus’ love comes from a mixture of his humanity and his divinity. As God, He unconditionally loves. But as human, He loves us other humans with a human intimacy. He’s one of us, without the natural flaws that is. But He knows what it’s like to face our temptations, weaknesses, flaws and problems. He loves with a sympathy that comes from intimacy.

The final reason I can’t comprehend Jesus’ love is that I can only consider His love through the lens of my own humanity. I am only able to see love through my own pride and selfishness. It’s like I’m looking through a cardboard tube of gift wrapping paper at a broad panoramic scene. All I see is what comes through my pretend telescope. I miss everything else in the scene. I think it’s this way when I try to look at and comprehend Jesus’ love. I only see a small piece of a wide and long and high and deep vastness of love.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, 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)

Maybe we can’t see the extensiveness of Jesus’ love for us, but I pray that we all can at least accept the truth of it.