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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By the Power the Holy Spirit

“Every minister of the gospel is called to rest content with nothing less than the indwelling life and power of the Holy Spirit. This is to be his only preparation for preaching the gospel in power. Nothing less than having Christ speaking through us in the power of His omnipotence will make us able ministers of the New Testament, bringing salvation to all who hear us.”     Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray, an 18th century minister in South Africa, is one of my favorite authors of Christian nonfiction. Over the years, I’ve read lots of his books, along with other similar books by equally great authors, such as A.W. Tozer, William Law, Brother Lawrence, and many more. For some reason, most of my favorite Christian authors are long dead—something they share with the authors of my ultimate favorite book, the Bible.

Anyway, if I were to pursue a theology education with the goal of becoming an ordained minister, I would be sure to include my favorite authors in my studies. But all that reading and effort, though valuable and helpful for me, would not adequately equip me to help others, for I would lack the most important trait for being an effective minister. I think Andrew Murray expressed it far better than I ever could.


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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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We Called Him Yeshua – Final Lap

Last Sunday my editor gave me the first 80 edited pages of my novel We Called Him Yeshua, cheerily marked up with red and blue ink, with a few post-it notes where more explanation was needed. Well, it was a bit of a strange feeling realizing I was about to delve into the world of my novel for maybe the last time.

My hope has been that We Called Him Yeshua will not only prove to be a gripping story, but also show people a side of Jesus they may not have fully understood before—his human side. And in coming to know his humanity, I believe people will naturally feel closer to him. For it’s easier to feel close to the human, than to the divine.

Anyway, Monday morning, 5:00-ish am, work began on the FINAL draft. Wow, hard to believe I’m using that word “final” after working on this book for over four years. How’s it feel? Well, my innards are filled with a mixture of excitement, fear, and a bit of sadness.

To me, writing sometimes feels the way carving marble felt to Michelangelo—he said carving was just a process of removing the extraneous marble until the image that slept inside the block was revealed. And believe me, I’ve piled on lots of extra words and garbage that has been gradually chipped away. And now I’m down to the final polishing.

I can’t express how exciting it is to have the final draft of this book slowly reveal itself as I go through my editor’s mark-ups and do the polishing. And the more revising I do, the more excited I get, for my editor is a gem and she’s come up with improvements that, I think, are taking this book to a whole new level.

But yes, there’s fear. Maybe fear of all the work still to do, in finishing the book as well as all the marketing and self-publishing and navigating Amazon, and on and on and on. Lots of unknowns along the path ahead, this being my first novel. But I think there’s also fear of the day when I set the book free, and let it go out alone into the world. Almost feels like those painful days each time my wife and I drove off and left one of our sons to go forth alone into their first days of college. A weird feeling when applied to something like a book.

And I think that’s where the sadness comes in. I will soon say goodbye to the characters I’ve lived with these past four years. At least in my head, they’ve taken on their own unique personalities, and I’ve grown to really care about some of them, and also despise a few of them. Have you ever felt this way about characters you’ve written?

Anyway, my journalist niece continues to spin out gold as she edits her way through the rest of the book. And my artistic niece will soon produce some sketches of her cover design ideas. I love the family project feel of this. My hope is to have a final draft ready to launch a paperback and Kindle version on Amazon around the middle of March, 2020. In some ways, I’m not looking forward to that.

If you want to know more about the book, or sign up to be notified when I post sample chapters on my cjpenn.com site, please go here. And by signing up, you’ll receive a link to any chapters that have already been posted.


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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?