Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

What’s So Bad about a Comfort Zone?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In your comfort zone, you feel safe, secure, loved, and treasured. And what is wrong with that? Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Amazon.com.

If you haven’t heard the term “comfort zone,” then you must never attend church. Or work in a cubicle. Or listen to politicians.

Comfort zones — that area of life where we operate, well, comfortably because we understand our circumstances, surroundings, and parameters, are bad places, we are told, and our primary goal is supposed to get out of them.

Before you listen to, or follow, this regulative and directorial advice, let’s review the concept of comfort zones, and figure out what ours look like, and whether or not we need to make any changes.

Good? or Bad?

1) There are two types of comfort zones, bad ones and good ones. For an example of the latter, think of your bedroom (years ago it would have been your boudoir), a favorite chair in the living room, your special table at a chosen restaurant — wherever this place is, you feel relaxed, secure, and happy there. You’re free to be who and what you are, and there are no inhibitions about expressing your thoughts or opinions.

What on earth is wrong with this?

Nothing. God Himself invites us into a comfort zone in Proverbs 18: 10:

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

Safety, security, shelter, comfort, being cherished – if these are bad things, God wouldn’t describe Himself as the source of them.

Wrong Motivation

2) Most of the time, when people tell you to get out of your comfort zone, it’s because they want you to do something for them.

“You’re too shy! Get out of that comfort zone and teach a Sunday School class!”

“God will give you the money for this short-term mission trip. Get out of your comfort zone and ask people for it!”

Being young, small, insignificant, unimportant, weak, or defenseless — these aren’t sins; they’re realities. Child of Eden, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Amazon.com

“Anybody can identify a weed. Get out of that comfort zone and volunteer for Community Service Clean-up Day!”

The Apostle Paul recognized some people’s controlling tendencies over others when he encouraged Timothy:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4: 12)

You may not be young, but if you are not considered a “leader” in your church or office, you may be emotionally susceptible to manipulation by others  – don’t let your perceived unimportance pressure you into doing things you don’t want to do.

You’re Never Alone

3) God, through circumstances, will take you into, through, and out of areas you would never choose on your own.

Cancer, job loss, relationship break-ups — God doesn’t impose these on you to “get you out of your comfort zone.” Life happens to all of us – “(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5: 45) Anyone telling you that God is messing up your life because He loves you has a messed up view of God. Don’t add to your pain by trying to embrace perversity.

Instead, when everything you’ve held as secure is crumbling at your feet, find your true comfort zone in “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles.” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4)

Denying Reality

4) Remember that bad comfort zone I mentioned in Point #1? A bad comfort zone is a denial of reality, which is something too many people are doing today, when it comes to the world we live in.

“We can trust our leaders.”

“The economy will pick up.”

“Bad things happen to other people because they deserve it. If you obey the law and are a good citizen, government will take care of you.”

Don’t believe everything you hear, or trust everything you read. Jeremiah 6: 13 warns us,

“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.”

It has been this way from the beginning, and it will be this way to the end: guard your own heart that you don’t practice deceit, and question the motives of others:

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.” (Psalm 118: 8-9)

Or the promises of politicians. Or “news” from the networks. Or endorsements from celebrities. Or the teachings of motivational speakers — pseudo-Christian or not. Spend time reading your Bible and praying — NOT because God will get you if you don’t, but because you can’t recognize a lie until you are steeped in the truth.

Comfort Zone: you won’t find the term in the Bible, it’s not a sin, and it’s not something you allow others to hem you into, or push you out of. Free yourself from being told how to live, think, act, hope, understand, and believe.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I question what we’re being told and taught, by whom, and why. This is something within the grasp, and responsibility, of all of us.

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If You’re Not Jewish, Why Do You Act as if You Are?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The narrow path we walk as Christians is challenging enough without throwing stones and rocks and logs and pitfalls in the way. Blue Ribbon, original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Because someone, somewhere will be quick to take offense, let’s waste the first paragraph of this article by stating that I have nothing against Jewish people, and if you are Jewish, I’m glad for you. I’m not out to convert you, change you, admonish you, or put you down.

However, this is a Christian blog. It’s not unreasonable for me to assume that people reading it are Christians, many of whom are Gentiles, like me. And what we’re talking about today is an increasing number of Christian Gentiles who adopt Jewish customs: the women cover their hair and the men grow beards; pork’s out of the house year round, as is yeast, during Passover, which is celebrated in conjunction with, or instead of, Easter; Jesus is Yeshua, God is Yahweh; Sunday is Saturday.

Many, Many Rules

The list can go on for the 1400 or so pages of my Old Testament, because the Gentile Christian who embraces an adopted Jewish heritage picks and chooses from all sorts of laws, customs, traditions, and obligations in an effort to express . . . what? about his Christianity.

One man told me, “The New Testament isn’t enough. To be a complete Christian, you have to follow the Old Testament.”

To which I replied, mentally because saying it aloud would have provoked an unnecessary argument: “If you’re going to play Jesus-Plus and follow the law, then you need to follow it all,” or as James, strongly purported to be the Lord’s brother and a Christian convert from Judaism, put it:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2: 10)

This means, fellow women still of childbearing age, that you need to remove yourself from society, and do a whole lot of laundry, for seven days out of the month (Leviticus 15: 19 -23).

The Gospel Means “Good News”

The good news is, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise,” (Galatians 3: 29). So the Old Testament, my friend, is as much a part of our spiritual heritage as the New Testament, and we can read it, meditate upon it, and learn from its wisdom and teaching. There’s a lot of great stuff in there.

We are His precious, precious children, guided by love, grace, mercy, compassion, and righteousness. Reflection, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART.

The better news is, the promised Messiah that Abraham’s children searched for in that Old Testament, and eagerly awaited to come, has already arrived, and because Jesus was the perfect Jew, fulfilling ever jot and tittle of the Law and the Prophets, you and I don’t have to (Luke 24: 44). If the Old Testament shows us anything, it predicates that we can’t fulfill the law, ever.

For Gentiles who are Christians, it’s not the Law and the Prophets we need to follow, it is Christ, and following Christ looks like this:

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6: 29) It’s harder than it sounds, but “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (John 6: 45)

So, how do we listen to the Father?

“This is love for God: to obey his commands.” (1 John 5: 3)

And what are those commands? Jesus tells us in Matthew 22: 37-39 that all of the Law and Prophets hang on these two:

“‘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.’ “

The Things You Don’t Need to Do

You don’t need to sacrifice a ram on the alter, assuming you could find either (“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1: 29). There is no need to distinguish clean from unclean food (“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean,’” Matthew 15: 11). If you have to work on Sunday, or Saturday, you don’t stand condemned (“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” Mark 2: 27).

It’s not what you do that saves you — it’s Who saves you:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8)

Grace. Grace. Grace. It’s so big that it covers us even when we heap on the rules.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to think seriously about what “freedom in Christ” means. No, it’s not the freedom to do anything we want or desire, because although “everything is permissible for me,” not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 6: 12).

It does mean, however, that we do not allow others — including ourselves — to place burdens upon us that Christ did not put there.

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God: What Do You Want Me to Do Today?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Let’s define the term, “great things.” How about laughing when things are getting out of control? Brimming Over, original oil painting, by Steve Henderson sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

We all want to do great things.

For some people, it’s a matter of making a success of themselves, via money, power, fame, and name, and the ultimate goal is to be rich, well-known, secure, and powerful. King Solomon of old managed this, with a significant amount of help from above, and the ultimate result of achieving what all of us think we want was this:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 10-11).

Well that’s a happy way to begin the week. Most of us, who are ordinary, with ordinary means and ordinary lives, would enjoy the opportunity to work with a fraction of what Solomon had at his disposal, but wait . . .

We Have Something to Offer

Maybe most of us do have a fraction — albeit a small one — of what Solomon had at his disposal. Okay, so ordinary people don’t tend to have kingdoms, storehouses of treasure, corporate media under their control, pesky paparazzi following them about as they shop, or magazines created to extol their every thought, but proportionally, the people who have the most seem to make the least impact — financially or compassionately — on the lives of ordinary people.

Jesus Himself noted this when he commented on the widow’s offering versus the grander ones of others in Luke 21: 3 – “This poor widow has put in more than all the others,” or observed the pitfalls of extreme wealth in Matthew 19: 24 – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Money Is a Resource

While money buys many things — pleasures for ourselves as well as desperately needed items for others — there’s no guarantee that, when any of us has any amount of funds, that we focus as much on item number 2 as we do on item number 1. And within the world of men — which has infiltrated the religious arena where we mistakenly expect to find the kingdom of God — the pressure is on to give to this program or that, the more the better, and if you can give only $75 (personally, I advocate not putting the word “only” in front of any monetary value; it’s insensitive and offensive), well, I guess that’s better than nothing.

We all say it: do we mean it? “The greatest things in life don’t cost money.” Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Light in the Box

The result of this attitude is that ordinary people feel that they can’t do anything for God, because they have so little to give. Leave it to the rich people, we shrug, which is a shame, because the most generous givers, proportionally, have never been rich people.

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” Jesus tells us in Luke 16: 10, “and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Use What You’ve Got

Do you have very little? That’s okay, someone else has less, and the $5 that you discount as worthless will buy food for a hungry brother or sister. If you don’t have $5 but you do have 20 minutes and a rudimentary knowledge of cars, the oil change you do for the person who knows nothing about her 23-year-old beater but that it’s falling apart, makes a difference. A card, a phone call, an e-mail sent to someone who is longing to be heard by another human being, any human being, at all, makes bigger ripples on the pond than you imagine.

If you can do “nothing more than pray,” then PRAY, because when God gives you a peek into the needs of another, He’s asking you to do a big thing. Focus on that person, commune with God, ask for wisdom as to what to say — and when you’re all done, if it’s possible and seems appropriate, let the person you prayed for know that you prayed for them, and will continue to do so for as long as God instructs.

Ask, Then Listen

It’s not a matter of how much you do or how much you give, it’s that you’re listening to God and following the prompts and prods we all receive each day, but frequently miss because we think that nothing we do really matters.

Everything we do for God matters.

Do you want to do great things? It starts today, with one simple question:

“God: What do You want me to do today?”

And then the exciting part comes, as you await His answer — always different, always unexpected, always just the right thing at just the right time.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I truly believe in the beauty, grace, and power of the regular, ordinary human being who loves and follows our mighty, compassionate, creative, and loving God. We don’t have to worry about being amazing, because He is.

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Money

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The sky, water, sunlight, stars, clouds, the breeze on our face — these are free gifts that God has put on this earth for all to enjoy. Crystalline Waters, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Christians aren’t supposed to freak out about money. Of course, Christians aren’t supposed to freak out about a lot of things, and we do, but there’s a difference between following what humans advise, and following God.

If you listen to humans, it’s no wonder that Christians freak out about money, because we’re taught some really stupid things. Let’s look at three of these misconceptions, and see if we can get rid ourselves of a spirit of fear and timidity, and focus on power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1: 7):

Lack of Money/Lack of Faith

1) We’re told that, if we don’t have enough money, it’s our fault, a direct result of our lack of faith. Prosperity preachers, who advocate speaking and thinking control words (declare, claim,  release, empower, impact, speak into existence, believe) emphasize this presumptive link between spirituality and wealth, conveniently overlooking Scriptures like, “You cannot serve both God and Money,” (Matthew 6: 24),  or “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith,” (1 Timothy 6: 10). Be aware that their pervasive message isn’t limited to the books, TV shows, and Mega-Metro-Churches, but like a leak in the bathroom sink, puddles itself at our feet. Wipe those feet before you enter church next Sunday.

Prosperity Preaching Is Insidious

2) Under the guise of “sound financial practices,” prosperity is preached, distilled, to the flock. Back when we attended controlled, weekly, corporate church activities, we were in the one percent of families who chose not to put down the cash, get the workbooks, and attend the video seminars of the Christian Money Guru of the Day.

People oohed and ahed at the wisdom: “Cut up our credit cards! Make a budget plan! Do exactly what we’re told! and next week, we’ll talk about mutual funds!”

Without spiritual freedom, you’ll never find financial freedom, no matter how much money you have. Spirit of the Canyon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

What they gabbled on about sounded remarkably like the hash we used to receive from secular, corporate financial houses (the ones that tell you to put this percentage aside for retirement, that percent for your child’s education, without acknowledging, at all, that you may make so little that food, rent, and mandatory property taxes are your major priorities). The person who benefits most from classes by the Christian Money Guru of the Day is . . . the Christian Money Guru of the Day.

He (or She) is hip, he’s smart, he’s savvy and he’s rich, but he’s not connected, at all, to the lives of the very little people. And yet the little people, who make him rich, follow his advice because they want to be rich, like him. They need to start writing books and selling video seminars.

The Promises Aren’t about Money

3) If you write a check to the church or a charity for $10, there is no Biblical promise that you will receive $100, $1,000, or $10,000 back.  Luke 6: 38 is frequently quoted – “Give and it will be given to you” – as the carrot encouraging us to donate. Likewise Mark 10: 29 – 30:

“. . . no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age.”

As always, read the rest: “(homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

Money, specifically, isn’t mentioned — although family predominates, which should say something about life’s priorities. Also, did you catch the word “persecutions” slipped in there? And dang, what does that last sentence mean?

Food, Water, Clothing

When the Norwegian Artist and I were in our dumb twenties, we lived for a year in the broom closet of a very poor, but very-close-to-Christ, Colombian couple. The experience grounded us, early, in the awareness that most of the world does not automatically expect potable water, three solid meals a day, central heating, or one car per person, as inalienable rights. And many of these people, who don’t have any of those things, are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We returned to an America where far too many Christian families expected not only all of the above, but an array of electronic gadgets, the Caribbean cruise to celebrate the tenth year wedding anniversary, and retirement at 55 with a generous pension. ”We’re blessed,” people told us, “because of our faith.”

“Without the goodies,” we wondered, “would you still have the faith?”

Our goal in life is not to become materially wealthy: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6: 7-8)

Give thanks for what you have, and trust God for your needs. And when you find yourself with more than what you need, think of 1 John 3: 17:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, I didn’t used to believe that all the wisdom you need can be found in Scripture, but as I find myself assaulted — daily — by bad information, misinformation, and disinformation from the news media, the entertainment industry, and the religious industrial complex — I seek solace and truth in His words, that will never pass away (Matthew 24: 35).

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