The Truth Shall Make You Free, part 4

July 23rd, 2014

John 8:31 is certainly not the only verse where Jesus speaks to what the character of a disciple of His ought to be. He addresses this character in many parts of the Gospels, and the rest of the New Testament “fleshes out” what He taught. Naturally, the character of a Christian is the main “sermon fodder” in our Churches. Much is expected of us. We are saved by the free gift of His grace. We did nothing to earn that grace (Ephesians 2:8,9). But, the next step, which some call sanctification, takes up the rest of our lives.

Jesus tells these new “converts” who believe in Him: “If you continue in My word, then you will be disciples of Mine (John 8:31).

I looked up the word “continue” in the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge. Some of you know this book. It is on the Internet, I believe. It basically cross references every verse in the Bible. If you go through all of these links, you might discover how the Bible can comment on itself.

Consider one of these links: the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23). My Ryrie study Bible interprets these four people this way: “there would be four different responses to the Word: no response; emotional response; worldly response and fruitful response.” I think that Matthew 8:20-21 is an example of not continuing in the word. A person hears the word and responds to it with great joy (emotion). But, he has no firm root in himself. Soon he falls away. Maybe that could be some of those Jews who came to believe in Jesus: they responded emotionally and it did not “stick.” Also see Luke 8:13.

To continue in His word is to abide in His word. Jesus describes Himself as the Vine. We, the branches, abide in Him (John 15:5-7). If we are rooted in Jesus, we will know that His love will fill us (Ephesians 3:17-19). Jesus has caused a reconciliation in our relationship with God if we continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast (Colossians 1:22-23).

We are told in Colossians 2:6,7: “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude .”

In many respects, that verse sums up what is expected of us. Normally we view expectations as “work.” This is true here. Sanctification is hard work. It is never an easy path. One reason is that God intervenes in that path with life lessons. It is almost as if “school” is in session in our lives every day. A day that goes by without having learned something is a wasted day, I believe. God would certainly view this to be true in terms of the learning tree called sanctification.

Sometimes people can hear the word but because that hearing was not united in faith by the hearer, it did not profit them (Hebrews 4:2). Perhaps this might describe some of the people Jesus spoke to in John 8:31.

To continue in His word is to live in it, abide in it, imbibe it, seek it, spend time with it, and to let it become us. I firmly believe that when you open His word, you see yourself. I see myself in Adam, Jacob, David, Jonah, and Peter. That is just for starters. Often when I read His word I wonder how the heck He ever knew that was me he was talking about. Reading His word can be pretty disconcerting at times. It forces you to look at yourself.

So, we need to continue in His word, and if we do, we will become disciples of His, and we will know the truth and the truth will make us free.

So, what is this “truth that will make us free” This is pretty much going to be the “meat” of what Dr. Stanley taught in that sermon set I mentioned.

But, before I do that, I want to explore, in the fifth installment, my own impressions of His Word – Scripture.

I am Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in Recovery

Truth Shall Set You Free _ Part 3:

July 21st, 2014

In the second installment, I testified how God’s Word – His Truth – set me on the road to freedom…not just freedom from alcohol, but also freedom to become the man God wants me to be.

Presumably the story could have ended there. After all, I had hit rock bottom, knew despair and loneliness, hated the person I really was, and all of this ended by the intervention of my Lord Jesus. Not only did He intervene but He showed me truth in His word, and that truth set me free.

End of story. Let the violins swell up to a crescendo while you see me disappearing into a beautiful landscape of life wonderful.

No. The story begins there. That landscape is beautiful at times, but a lot of the times it is a rocky difficult terrain and it has almost sucked me dry while I navigate through it. These have been some good 12 sober years, but at the same time, they have sometimes been downright awful. Why? I did not always continue in His word. Often I would ignore His word and would go my own way, and when I did boy was it terrible. I also think that I was not discerning enough to see that in some of that rocky terrain maybe God was trying to teach me something. If so, then I flunked the class. So, these 12 years have been “up and down.”

Look at these versions of John 8:31,32:

Then Jesus turned to the Jews who claimed to believe in Him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.” (The Message)

So Jesus said to those Jews who had believed in Him, if you abide in My word [hold fast to My Teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples. And you shall know the Truth and the Truth will set you free (The Amplified Bible).

Jesus said to them, ‘You are truly my disciples if you live as I tell you to and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (The Living Bible).

What is happening here? First, as many of you know, the gospel of John is different from the other three in that it emphasizes more of what Jesus says as compared to what Jesus does. In Chapter Eight all we know is that He is at the Temple talking with those have followed along with Him. These public discourses dominate John’s gospel up through chapter 12. From then on, His statements are to a smaller audience, mainly the Twelve and other followers.

So, the words in John 8:31,32 were for public consumption at a place revered by the Jews: the Temple. Jesus, being a good Jew, worshiped there. He also taught there. Apparently He was confronted with opposition to His teaching. But, when He spoke the words you see in John 8:28,29 many apparently came to believe in Him.

So, what does He do? He speaks directly to those people who came to believe in Him: “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

Isn’t that impressive? Those who came to believe in Him got His attention and He spoke to them. I still think that is true today. In my early days as a Christian, He was there with me, teaching me through His Word, and through the lives of other Christians. This immediate attention often will separate the wheat from the chaff. In John 8:31 He lays out for them what the character of a true disciple of His ought to be: to continue in His word.

Unfortunately, not all of those who “came to believe in Him” actually did so. Perhaps some of them had an emotional reaction that did not last. You can see that in their reactions and statements from verse 33 on. The exchange of words between these people and Jesus get pretty confrontational. Chapter Eight ends with the people trying to stone Him! But, He hides and eventually gets away and out of the Temple.

What does it mean to continue in His word? Here are some possible meanings from Webster: “to maintain without interruption a condition, course or action.” To continue is to endure, stay, keep up, prolong, last, abide, and persist. One word that works is: abide. I like the way Matthew Henry put it:

“It is to dwell in Christ’s word, as a man does at home, which is his center, and rest, and refuge.”

I like that. As I write this, I am safe inside my home while an ice storm is raging outside. I hear the clicking of the sleet against the screens of my windows. Yet here I am in my home, my center, my refuge, safe, warm, and secure. That is what it is like to abide in His word.

Next time I want to take one more look at John 8:31.

My name is Michael the Penguin, and I am a Ch

You Shall Know the Truth, Part 2

July 19th, 2014

We all want to be free. The desire to be free is part of our make-up, and that means God/ gave us that desire. In my case, I want to be free to be the man God wants me to be. I have always wanted that. Wanting and achieving are two different things, however.

I have fears. These fears weigh me down. What caused them? I have ideas, theories, and sometimes even valid reasons why these fears exist. But, what matters is how I have handled these fears. Some people grow out of them. I didn’t. I took them with me into adulthood. And, in doing that I thought maybe I could use them in my favor. The best thing to do was to plan, anticipate, scheme, and prepare. The overall plan for the day was to control, control, control. That took a lot of thought. In the process I became an insomniac.

And, over time, I became an alcoholic.

Why? Because as life happened, it got more complex and there were too many loose ends. The pain of seeing these dangling ends was too much. Alcohol took care of that and, in an odd way, it helped. I could sit up at night and plan, anticipate, scheme, and prepare and be energized by the alcohol.

Eventually all of this came to a head: my world imploded, and my biology crashed. Suddenly there I was totally alone being a person I hated.

Trouble was, I really was that person.

So, what was I to do? In fact, I did not do anything. It was Jesus who did something. He confronted me. He got into my face. He tried a variety of ways to intervene which I, of course, either could not see or perhaps was too self-absorbed to see.

When you hit bottom, you are so alone. All of you who read this know that. I had failed myself and others, and others had failed me. I was desperately alone. I was so alone I was physically ill.

There I sat ill, on a glorious sunny Saturday, 21 October, 1994, in the midst of beautiful Colonial Williamsburg, surrounded by happy tourists, and there I was, slowly dying inside. That was when He spoke. There was no audible sound. He spoke in my spirit: “Michael, the reason you are in bad health is because of your drinking. Once you stop the drinking, your health will improve and everything will be all right.”

Jesus was using the word “health” in two ways. The first applied to the disease of alcoholism. The second applied to the deeper spiritual disease or malaise which I knew would force me to address long hidden issues out of my entire life. Frankly, it was the second disease that I feared the most.

So, where did I need to start?

I started through His Word. Scripture. Later that day, as I was sinking into withdrawal (I had not had any alcohol in 12 hours)I asked Him how…how was I ever going to stop drinking? And, on top of that, what was I to do with myself once I stopped? Horrible fear overtook me…the fear that I would be so exposed and helpless for all to see with no place to hide, being a person even I did not like. It was terrible. I saw no way out.

He gave me two verses: Proverbs 3:5 and Philippians 4:13. I took out the Gideon bible in our motel room and found them:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Suddenly the fear was gone. The “edge” of alcoholic withdrawal was taken away, and I felt human…real…and I even felt safe in the knowledge that I was there, in Him, and comfortable being who I really was. I claim this as a divine intervention in my life, and in many respects, the next day, 22 October, was really the first day of the rest of my life: a life that had to be grounded in God, not in my fears and need for control.

So, it was His Word that was put me on the road to freedom. I am not there yet. I was not instantly healed. I will be seeking good health in both of these areas for the rest of my life. Probably I will never quite get to the end of the road, but by then I will be in His arms and then it will be glorious.

Until then, I have His Word, and I want to continue in His Word in order to know truth and through that truth, have freedom.

In the next installment, I want to give some thought to the word “continue” as Jesus used that word.

My name is Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.

You Shall Know the Truth

July 16th, 2014

My name is Michael the Penguin and I am a Christian in recovery.

I would like to think out loud with the rest of you for a while. One of my favorite verses in Scripture is John 8:32. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” It seems, at first, to be a “no-brainer” in terms of interpretation:
(1) It is Jesus talking;
(2) He is the truth; and
(3) we can find freedom in life through Him.

The application to anyone in recovery is also obvious: in recovery we want to be free of our addictions, but we know we need to find a deeper freedom in order to achieve that. It is one thing to stop drinking, drugging, etc., but it is another thing to remain free and also have a life centered in God. The Steps are the tried and true way of helping any of us to find the freedom to be the person God wants us to be. For us as Christians, Scripture is a big part of those Steps. To me, Scripture is just about the one tried and true source of revelation from God. I can state categorically that Scripture is why I have remained sober for 12 years: the study, absorption and application of God’s truths for me.

You can find John 8:32 in a lot of secular situations. I have seen it on the front entrance to the Library where I did my Ph.D. work. I have seen it on certain places as a memorable quote. After all, truth and freedom are very universal attributes sought by all since the beginning of time. And, Christians view truth very different from other groups or faiths.
What I was not overly aware of was John 8:31. I want to quote it and include John 8:32.

So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of mine, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

The key word is “if.” Although I am a student of Scripture, I don’t pretend to know it all. I just cannot recall very many conditional statements in the New Testament. That “If then” phrase is very common in the Old Testament. We tend to generalize that the Old Testament is “conditional” while the New Testament is “unconditional.” While I am sure these broad generalizations are true, I pause when I see the conditional statement in John 8:31-32. There is a lot to consider in the words “continue” – “disciple” “know” “truth” “free”, etc.

I want to pursue this and I would like you, the reader, to come with me.  This study is based on a set of sermons I heard from Dr. Charles Stanley back in the 80′s. There were ten sermons. I heard some of them while they were being presented on television, and bought the tape set and worked through a response study that came out of his ministry. Then, about ten years later I went through a crisis and used this study to help me get through it. I listened to the sermons again. I put together a 13 page outline-based study for my own use and it is in my files now as an article called “Truth for Me” And now, about ten years after that, I am going to do this study again since I am once again going through a crisis. I suspect I will eventually get into all of that personal stuff, but for now I suspect I had better just leave that out.

As Christians we know we have freedom. That freedom comes from the grace of God through the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. That is a given and a factual assurance. We are truly free. But, very often we just don’t live that way, and one of the reasons we don’t live that way is that we get wrapped up in our stuff and forget about our Christian walk. That has happened to me a lot of times. You are familiar with one of the important themes of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life:  “It’s not about me.” Well, too often I have thought it was about me and this has caused me problems that have really burdened me over the years. Jesus has been with me on all of this, thankfully, but dear reader know this: you can find forgiveness for your actions and sins, but you still live with consequences. David was forgiven by God but there were many unfortunate events that proceeded after his adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband Uriah.

And so, my purpose here is to go back to the basics and realize that freedom in God one more time. I hope you will come along with me.

In Him
Michael the Penguin

What Will You Seek and Pursue?

July 15th, 2014

Psalm 34:14: “Seek peace and pursue it.”

I stared at my list of items to complete today. “Oh dear God, the list exceeds the hours in my day.” Do you feel that way sometimes?

After a deep breath, I prayed. “Heavenly Father God, please multiply my time and help me to seek peace and pursue it.”

After praying, my next step to seek peace and pursue it was to go to You Tube and select relaxing Christian music on the harp or piano. What steps do you take to seek peace and pursue it?

I couldn’t write the weekly devotional without a calm heart and a quiet spirit. I thank God for his Word, the Bible, with all its precious promises and wise commands.
God would never tell you and me to do something if he didn’t intend to make it possible. That means it is possible to seek peace and pursue it. Furthermore, it is possible to find peace.

Other Bible verses confirm the possibility of having peace on earth. Psalm 29:11 says, “The LORD blesses his people with peace.” Now there’s a blessing I don’t want to miss. How about you?

Ephesians 2:14 says, “For he [Jesus Christ] himself is our peace.” If Jesus Christ is your personal Lord and Savior, he is your peace. Seek him and pursue him.
You have nothing to lose and peace to gain.

Dear God, I need peace in my life right now. Amen.

Application: What will you do this week to seek peace and pursue it?

Copyright © by Yvonne Ortega July 14, 2014

Do You Believe God Will Hear You?

July 11th, 2014

Micah 7:7: “But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.”

“Oh my God,” I whispered and then sobbed as I looked at the crypt with my son’s name on it. It had been two and a half years since my last visit to San Diego.

I stood alone as the sun shone over the military cemetery, and the breeze blew through my hair. Such a beautiful day, and yet my heart ached to see my son. I placed a patriotic red, white, and blue arrangement of flowers in a wheelbarrow at the foot of the crypt and took pictures of it.

“God, I’ve asked you before and I’m asking you again, don’t let my son’s death be in vain. Use it for good in my life and the lives of others. Let it be for your honor and glory and for furthering your kingdom here on earth.”

“I [watched] in hope for the LORD” and said, “My God will hear me.” I sensed God’s presence and comfort. God reminded me of how he has answered that prayer in the past and assured me he will continue to do so.

That day and for the next few days of my San Diego visit, God allowed me to minister to others. I understood their pain because of the pain I have had. My God did hear me.

What about you? Do you believe God will hear you? How often do you watch in hope for him?

Dear God, help me watch in hope for you. Amen.

Application: When will you wait for God to hear you?

Copyright © by Yvonne Ortega July 7, 2014

Does Your Worship Matter?

July 10th, 2014

On our recent tour, our teammate Doug was fond of the greeting “Gloria a Dios” (glory to God).

Even when he received a nasty gash on his leg from a stray piece of glass in a trash bag, he limped to our starting circle with a hearty Gloria a Dios.

I thought it was a great alternative to “How ya doing?” I liked being reminded of our shared commitment, but I found myself asking what might seem like an odd question.

Why should God care whether we glorify Him or not?

I don’t intend to be disrespectful. Quite the opposite—He’s God. Why does it matter to Him whether I even acknowledge Him, much less offer Him the glory for my meager efforts?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

This isn’t a new question for me. I suspect it bubbles to the surface when I’m feeling especially vulnerable or uncomfortable. I suppose a diminished sense of self-worth leads to the notion that my worship won’t matter to God.

Ever been there?

It’s a lie, of course, but I think I get the reasoning twisted around. Maybe you do as well.

It’s certainly true that God doesn’t need me to give Him glory. In fact, He doesn’t need anything from me, you, or anyone else. He’s God.

So why does it matter? The secret is in the second paragraph above—“I liked being reminded…”

Gloria a Dios isn’t for God’s benefit, it’s for mine. Each time Doug repeated the greeting I remembered my connection to the Creator, my dependence on Him. I remembered that the ride was about justice, and that we were letting God use us to set things right for a handful of kids.

God doesn’t need me to glorify Him, but He knows I’m more at peace, more aware, more grounded, when I do.

In the midst of a hectic week when it was so easy to lose focus, Doug’s greeting took me home. I’m grateful.

Gloria a Dios indeed!

Copyright by Rich Dixon. All rights reserved.

Are You Uncomfortable?

July 8th, 2014

I’m stating the obvious with today’s word-of-the-week…


I’m acutely aware today that I don’t like being uncomfortable.

It’s awfully easy to write about stepping out of the comfort zone and trusting God, but this morning I feel like retreating. I want a big, wide safety net. I want someone else to take the risks.

It’s all about fear—of failure, of rejection, of looking foolish. And today, the fear’s winning.

I suspect we’ve all felt this at some point. Perhaps not, but for me it’s very real today. I’m hearing the lie that says “It’s not worth the risk.”

What do I do?

I talk to God. I fall back on the truth I know. And I allow myself the space and grace to admit my fear.

If you’re in a similar place, I hope you’ll join me in being gentle with yourself. We don’t have to live in fear, but we don’t have to deny it, either.

Have a great week.

Copyright by Rich Dixon

Where’s the Milk?

July 6th, 2014

milkThere’s a story of a mom who (back in the days when such a thing was considered safe) gave her little boy some money and asked him to ride his bike to the corner store (when there still were such things) to buy a half-gallon of milk.

“I want you to ride straight to the store, buy the milk, and ride right back home,” said Mom.

“Okay, Mommy,” replied the boy. And off he rode.

It was a glorious summer afternoon, filled with the sort of things that interest little boys more than errands and half-gallons of milk. He investigated a few bugs, played with a dog, chatted with the old man down the street, and watched some older boys shoot baskets in a driveway.

After a couple of blocks and several mental detours, his mom’s complicated instructions sort of faded into the warmth of the afternoon. All he could recall was “…ride right back home.” He knew that part was important.

So he turned and pedaled as fast as possible for home. Bounding into the kitchen he announced, “Mom, I’m home.”

“Honey,” she asked, “where’s the milk?”

The little boy looked dejected. “But Mom, I came right home, just like you said.”

The boy completed the ride, but he forgot the milk. The milk was the whole reason for the trip.

What’s the “milk” for you on this tour? What’s the ultimate purpose, that essential element that makes it all worthwhile? What’s at the center, so critical that reaching the goal without it would render everything else meaningless?

What if They Don’t Want Help?

July 4th, 2014


Suppose you noticed someone in obvious distress holding this sign. What would you do? WWJD?

My dog Monte’s official title is “service dog,” though many folks call him a “helper dog.” I don’t think the difference is one of semantics. Serving is different than helping.

The strong help the weak, the big help the small, the able help the disabled. The superior help the inferior. Those who can help those who can’t.

Service turns this around. Servants are humble, invisible, and lowly. Servants do the tasks deemed unfit for the masters. In Jesus’ words, “A servant is not greater than his master.”

Jesus said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, the servant of all.”

How might a servant approach the person in distress with the “PLEASE DON’T HELP” sign?

How might an attitude of service impact or alter the interaction?

How would the person with the sign be involved?

What have you learned or observed about service?

We’re attempting to operate as a team of “servant leaders.” Is that a platitude or a reality? How does one fulfill both roles?

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Copyright by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site