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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

If I Were Taller, I’d Look Thinner, and Other Bible Truths

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Matthew 6:27

I ran into this verse the other day, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never seen it before.

Oh, I’ve seen one like it — my New International Version records a similar sounding verse that says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Lady of the Lake inspirational original oil painting of tall woman by alpine lake by Steve Henderson with licensed prints at allposters.com, amazon.com, art.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

Some of us are tall; some of us are short; but none of us have the ability to hop out of bed and say, “I’m going to put two inches on my height today!” Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Now the reason that the verse sounds similar is because it is the same verse, Matthew 6:27, only translated quite differently, and before we get into an argument about the superiority of the King James Version versus the New International Version, or any other version (check out the different renderings of the verse here), that’s not what I’m here to talk about. Contrary to the irritating ditty that my husband, a pastor’s kid, grew up with and wishes he could get out of his head, the King James Version is not necessarily That Old Time Religion (whatever that is), and Paul and Silas didn’t read it.

Different Bible Translations

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All Bible translations are done by the children of men, and as such, are prone to being interpreted according to the prejudices and presuppositions of those men. It is, literally, a miracle that we have readable versions of Scripture that stick enough to the point so that we can still get the message. (It’s the notes you might want to be especially wary of: while it’s difficult to get too wild with a translation without someone noticing and speaking up, all sorts of interpretations can be, and have been, tacked onto the helpful notes below.)

That being said, it’s not a bad idea to have at least two different versions of the Bible on hand, and when a particular verse puzzles one, there may be a different way of looking at it in another version. Especially helpful for those of us who didn’t pick up Greek or Hebrew in school is a good interlinear Bible of the New and Old Testaments, and frequently, when I puzzle over a particular wording, I’ll pull out my interlinear friend and check.

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Checking Other Sources

Which is what I did with Matthew 6:27, intrigued to discover two things:

1) The Greek translation does deal with cubits, stature, and height as opposed to adding hours to one’s life,

and

2) The New Revised Standard version of the text, in a column to the right, unblushingly transcribes those cubits to one’s height as hours to one’s life.

Perhaps this seems absurdly trivial, but upon contemplation, it really isn’t.

The New Hat inspirational original oil painting of woman in Victorian Bedroom by Steve Henderson

Add a hat, heels, and the right kind of dress, and we can give the illusion of being taller than we are — but like a mirror image, it really is an illusion. The New Hat, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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When we put the two verses side by side we see that yes, they sort of say the same thing: our act of worrying doesn’t change things, so why to we do it? but the differences are subtle:

Consider this: it is possible to add inches to your height — through perching on our toes, wearing heels, or standing on a box behind a counter — and while putting on an extra foot-and-a-half is difficult to pull off, we could manage six inches or so, with stilettos.

The point is that we can do it — not well, not genuinely, not completely, and not for real — but we can put forth enough of a substitute to fool ourselves, and others, into thinking that we’re taller than we are. In effect, we are scheming.

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Scheming

Scheming — which is not to be confused with brainstorming or creatively thinking through a problem — involves invoking our sense of cleverness to bring about a desired result, regardless of how we get that result. The important thing is success, not the process by which we get there — the ends justifying the means, so to speak — and scheming, by its nature, involves depending upon our own resources: our intelligence, our acumen, our mental dexterity and the shrewdness of our wit.

And while there’s nothing wrong with our using our intelligence to think through things, sometimes the problems we’re thinking through are too big for us to handle — which is why we are worrying — and in the process of scheming, and resolving to solve this problem at all costs, we do not turn to our Father and our Eldest Brother and ask them for — not cleverness, not wit, not sharpness and sagacity — but wisdom, and patience, and help.

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If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that our problem is so beyond our ability to solve that we would have greater success growing, by our own means, from 4 foot 8 to 6 foot 2. This is absurd, and we know it, but when we’re talking about something different, like generating money, let’s say, we throw all common sense out the window, or at least we do if we buy the Make a Million Quick! books or remotely believe any prosperity preacher.

Prosperity Preaching

“Conceive it; think it; believe it; make it happen!” we are told, and when it doesn’t, it is because we didn’t think hard enough, as if we, like God, could create material matter simply by thinking it, or speaking it.

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If this is so, and millions of mis-guided Christians, and non-Christians, believe both the religious and business seminar speakers who assure them that it is, then why not start with something easy and tangible, like adding actual, and verifiable, inches to our height?

And herein is where the KJV version of Matthew 6:27 just shines: we can’t add inches to our height just by thinking it; even a child knows that. But adding an hour to our life . . . how would we know if we did or not? It’s too abstract, and completely unprovable. We can still learn from the NIV, and associates, version, but by looking at other (and in this case more accurate) translations, we gain a depth and a perspective that we didn’t have before.

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There is no one perfect translation of the Bible that makes no mistakes and does not reflect the bias of its translators, but this does not mean we should despair. Find your favorite version and read it lovingly, but keep your mind open enough to look at other versions — broadening your horizons and opening your mind to different ways of looking at the same thing.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage all believers to confidently approach whatever Bible is in their house and read it.

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Christian Sheep: We Can Learn from Goats

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I’ll never forget the first time I milked a goat.

My best friend from college, whose degree was in animal husbandry but who more importantly kept goats and milked them herself, was convinced that my family needed two of the animals, because we had just moved out in the country and were seeking to live more independently.

Fenceline Encounter inspirational original oil painting of goats and deer in meadow field at sunset by Steve Henderson

In our reading and research, let us not be afraid to look at the views of others who are not necessarily just like us; the more we read, ponder, research and seek the truth, the better we get at discernment. Fenceline Encounter, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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So my friend tracked down two fine specimens, loaded them in her truck, and drove five hours to my place where she, and I, and my children and husband now stood, making their acquaintance.

“Go ahead,” my friend urged. “Milk the goat.”

And that was my introduction to a delightful activity that, 16 years later, our family is still doing — we keep, and milk a few dairy goats, drinking their milk, spoiling the cats with the largesse, and making our own cheese.

But on that first day, sitting cross-legged in a gravel driveway and pulling ineffectually at the teats of an animal rapidly becoming impatient with my ineptitude, it seemed as if I had taken on too much. I wasn’t my friend, with the animal husbandry degree, and I had never been this close — or physically intimate — with a farm animal before.

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Who was a I fooling into thinking that I could do something so different and beyond my background, expertise, and pay grade?

What, Really, Is an Expert?

It is a question we frequently ask ourselves in the society in which I live, the United States, where a degree in anything — whether or not it involves actual experience in the subject — is sufficient to quell all questioning or dissension from the non-experts (witness the attitude of corporate mainstream science against the consumer who asks, “Why do we need rBST growth-hormone in our milk products?” The funny thing is, you can call the person dumb all you want, but she still retains the power to put the brick of cheese down and say, “I won’t buy that one. I’ll buy this one, the one that tells me, clearly on the label, that it’s GMO- and rBST-free.” That’s what I did the other day.)

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Provincial Afternoon inspirational original oil painting of two girls reading books in french meadow countryside by Steve Henderson

Those of us who have been privileged to learn how to read, and who have resources at our disposal, should use them. The best teacher is a determined and perseverent student. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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When it comes to science versus faith, emotions run high, and the general import is that people of faith need to keep that faith private, and publicly acknowledge what they’re told is science. More importantly, we are to adjust our faith to comply with that science, and if we don’t we are vilified, especially if we dare to question the official educational and governmental doctrine concerning our origins, which has a whole lot to do with how we interpret our place in society, the world, and the universe.

Quite unfortunately, too many Christians these days are so unaware of what is in the Scriptures they profess to believe, that as soon an expert, or noted public figure, plops out with something like,

“The Bible is essentially a fairy tale. There’s really no scientific evidence that anything it says is true,” they tremble, turn off the TV, and head to small group Bible study where they discuss the importance of being transparent and intentional in their purposeful walk with Christ. But in the back of their minds, they retain a doubt that the Bible and real life can ever be compatible, further dividing their lives into a compartmentalization of “church life” and “the rest of the week.”

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Reading, Research, and Hands-on Experience

“Christianity” and “ignorance,” however, are not synonymous.

There are two primary ways of learning about a subject, both of which, quite fortunately, do not require signing up for classes and putting out money for tuition, fees, and textbooks: firsthand experience (as I did, in milking the goat) and reading and research (something we did before receiving the goats, and continuously after). The combination of hands-on experience with routine and regular reading is a great way to get really good at what we’re interested in.

And as Christians, what we’re interested in is God, and who He is, and what He says, and what it means to belong to Him. And while it’s easy to fall into the comfortable habit of letting the pastor do all the talking, and teaching, and thinking that this is enough, this is pretty much like asking my friend with the goats to move in with us and take over the morning and evening chores.

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We Do Have a Teacher

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go,” God tells us in Psalm 32. “I will counsel you and watch over you.”

God, our Father, is our ultimate teacher, and Jesus, our Eldest Brother, has promised that we will not be left bereft in this relationship:

“The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things, and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:25)

It’s always a wise reminder to us that the apostle John, whose book by his name so beautifully and mysteriously records the words and teaching of his Master and friend, or Peter, who in the first half of Acts speaks out boldly and intelligently about the teachings of this new Way, were, in their first career, fishermen.

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When Jesus hired them on as fishers of men, they were hardly qualified in any worldly sense to teach, speak, or lead — and yet theirs are the names associated with the launching of this radical, highly disturbing theological enlightenment. They weren’t dumb because they were uneducated, but they also didn’t stay uneducated. They read the Scriptures and absorbed them, and they became adept in addressing the various pagan and traditional religious arguments against Christianity.

So ought we to be: first, we should know what’s in the Bible by the simple expedient of reading it, not relying upon, not only our pastor, but prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking to tell us what they think it says.

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And second, we should turn off the TV and get back into reading — not just pap Christian fare that effectively says nothing, but books about science, current events, nutrition, philosophy, theology, history, and human relationships — grown-up books that address the issues we’re running from so that we don’t have to be afraid of facing them anymore.

It all starts with sitting crosslegged on the gravel driveway, determinedly pulling at a goat’s teat.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage my brothers and sisters in the family to look at the gifts they have been given — no matter how odd or out of sorts they look — and ask our Father how to use them.

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It’s a Secret, but Many Christians Do Distrust God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

We all approach life from a certain world view. And while the dictators of politically correct doctrine decry bias as a bad thing, it’s really just a realistic thing.

Lilac Festival inspirational original oil painting of toddler girl in garden picking flowers by Steve Henderson licensed prints at framed canvas art and amazon.com

Ideally, our position before God our Father is one of a trusting child — this means more than following any rules we could impose upon ourselves. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.

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No matter how much pressure is placed upon us by the mass media, political structure, and academic establishment, we are not all going to think alike: some of us will insist upon putting butter, not margarine, on our potatoes. And while the margarine lovers may quaver in outrage at this, contending — with the full support of  experts — that if the butter people continue to have their way, all sorts of hate crimes will result, anarchy will reign, and the planet will implode, diners do have the right to personal taste preferences.

So there’s nothing wrong with bias, or world-view, perspective, or proclivity, and a wise person is in touch with what he believes, and why.

(How we believe is not fixed and permanent, incidentally: the thoughts we had on Santa Claus, for example, in our childhood probably differ from those we have as an adult, and thinking people do just that: we think, and read, and ponder, and adjust our world view as we gain knowledge and wisdom.)

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Our Christian World-View — How Much “World” in That View?

So it is with our Christian walk — as we think, and read, and ponder; pray, and meditate, and question — we learn more about our Father in heaven, and we adjust the way we respond and live by the knowledge and wisdom we gain.

When I was a child in Christ — a childhood that lasted more than 20 years, I’m afraid — I spent little time thinking about, or talking to, my Father in heaven, because I was convinced that He wasn’t a particularly nice person. Like many people who really don’t read the Bible but depend upon others to interpret it for them, I saw God — especially the God of the Old Testament — as impatient, unforgiving, irritable, petulant, controlling, random, and unpredictable.

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September inspirational original oil painting of still life floral in vase with fruit by Steve Henderson

The same hand that crafted mighty mountains and majestic seas also formed flowers. September, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Of course, I knew (because I was constantly told, but not shown, this) that He was loving and forgiving, but this was in concomitance with all of the attributes above, which meant that, though I was forgiven, I was not necessarily embraced. And while God wouldn’t toss me into hell when I thought an uncharitable thought, or worse, employed a four-letter word that began with the 6th letter of the alphabet, He would turn His back on me.

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In short, I didn’t trust in the loving nature of our Father, in whom there is NO darkness at all. When things got bad enough, and prayers appeared to go unanswered, my default thought was that He had forgotten me, abandoned me, or worse, was playing with me.

Difficult to Admit

Now this is not the type of thing one admits readily and freely to other Christians, because — since it represents such a raw, real aspect of our nature, to doubt the goodness of God (as Eve did in Genesis 3:2) — the response too frequently is along the lines of,

“Shame on you to doubt God! He is good and powerful and wonderful, and it is WRONG to say that He is not!”

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But scolding people for crying when they are sad, or bleeding when they are cut, never does any good — whether or not a person SHOULD feel some way does not affect whether or not they actually do, and when a person operates on the world view that God has the potential to be unkind, it’s unreasonable to chastise a person for fearing that He is.

Plenty of Peer Support

In my own case, throughout years of church attendance, I had interacted with numerous Christians who operated on a world view of doubting God, although they didn’t know it because they wouldn’t admit it. But they declared it, unwittingly, through their words, when they served up trite banalities:

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“This is happening because God is getting you out of your comfort zone. It may hurt, but it’s good for you,”

or

“God isn’t interested in your hurt feelings. He wants you to feel your SIN and be sorry for it!”

or, in reference to Jesus’s encouragement to His disciples at the head of this essay,

“Jesus COMMANDS us to not be worried or afraid, and to do so is disobedient, and disobedience is a sin!”

It’s all in your world view. And when your world view allows in the smallest thought that God gives an exasperated sigh over His children, and indeed, really considers us more of His (lazy) servants and (unsatisfactory) slaves, we are unable to approach the good news of the gospels with any ability to extract joy from them.

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Digging a Deep Hole

And then when we punish ourselves further, because we know, deep down, that we don’t 100 percent trust God — something that a person may never realize until life hurts so much, and prayers seem so ignored, that we can’t help but ask, like the Psalmist in 10:1-2, “Why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” — this does nothing to advance our relationship with our Father.

And that, we tell ourselves, is further our fault. The hole gets deeper.

So let us go back to Jesus’s words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

This means exactly what it sounds like, an encouragement, from our strong and loving Eldest Brother, to not let ourselves fall into the tailspin of worry. While the verb “let” identifies it is an act of will that we can control, let us not be surprised that we may very well need His help to do even this one simple act:

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“Show me your unconditional love. Teach me how you are 100 percent good.

“Change my world view about You.”

It will be difficult at first, depending upon how skewed our present world view is, but as He teaches, and as we learn, we will approach Him from a right understanding, and grasp that He is saying the same thing, over and over:

“I love you.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I am constantly amazed at how different a passage of Scripture can look, depending upon one’s interpretation of God, and His personality.

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Abusive Christianity

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Any time we are in an abusive or controlling relationship, it takes effort to emerge from it, our independence and self-worth repaired and brought back to health and normalcy. Information that we have accepted as fact or truth, which has been gently twisted to mean other than it does, has to be re-evaluated.

Not all creatures with wings are angels. Not all that we are taught about God is true. Vintage 1930s Paris Postcard Image.

Not all creatures with wings are angels.  Not all that we are taught about God is true. Vintage 1930s Paris Postcard Image.

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And often, the best way to see things clearly is to get away from the person, group, or organization that is exerting control over our lives.

In our case, it was the modern, corporate-influenced church establishment that had undue influence over how we saw God, our perfect and loving Father, and Christ, our gracious and compassionate Eldest Brother. So confused are some people about this love and acceptance that they simply cannot understand the verse at the head of this essay.

We were guests at a Bible Study once in which the participants agonized over the import of the verse:

“What does it mean?” they asked each other. “Because we know, of course, that God can’t simply look past our sins and faults and accept us as is.”

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One thing we’ve noticed in interacting with people in abusive, dysfunctional relationships, is that the victim is always at blame for what happens to him or her: it is because of the way she acts, or something he says, or even a look on their face that the attack from their abuser comes. The abuser, quite cleverly, is always innocent, asserting that he or she was “provoked” by the victim. And while God is not an abuser, we humans easily create an interpretation of Him to fit the profile.

An Angry Father

I am reminded of the teaching I received in the evangelical system that Christ stands as a mediator between me and God, protecting me from my Father’s violent, raging, and vehement wrath. I was safe, I was told, because Jesus (who had His own issues with me) was standing between my Father and me.

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“But what if I want to stand beside Jesus?” I thought. “God will see me then, and will be so disgusted by me that He’ll attack.”

It’s a valid concern drawn from the teaching: because we are wretched, awful, horrible, creepy, nasty sinners, it is only Christ’s presence that enables our Father to be in the same room with us. So why would we want to be around Dad?

But this is not our Father of the Bible, nor the Father that our Eldest Brother, Jesus, taught us to seek:

East from West

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him,” Psalm 103:11 rejoices. Unfortunately, the abused Christian will stop, frozen, at the word “fear,” and stay there. However, the words go on (they all do — the Bible is meant to be read as a whole, with the concept of God’s merciful love and grace prominent at the forefront of our minds):

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Eyrie inspirational original oil painting of grand canyon sprite at sunrise by Steve Henderson licensed prints at AllPosters.com, Art.com, Amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

If East went on forever in front of me, it would never run into the West that runs forever behind me. Let us rejoice in the warmth of the Son. Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at AllPosters, Art. com, Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas

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“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” That’s an encouraging thought.  However, when we dwell on it, eyes closed and a smile on our face, we’re sure to be poked in the ribs and reminded:

“Don’t forget your sins! Don’t think that you can just rest in your sinfulness and expect God to love you!”

which makes me wonder if the apostle John was confused when he wrote 1 John 4:19:

“We love because he first loved us.”

Jesus tells us John 14:9,

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” It doesn’t take much reading of the Synoptic Gospels to realize that the few times Jesus exhibits powerful anger, He is dealing with people who are focused on making money, or securing power, on the basis of His Father’s name.

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Many, many others, who “deserved” worst, didn’t get it: read through Luke’s crucifixion account in 23:26-43 and see how Christ reacted to those who sneered at Him for not saving Himself, to the soldiers mocking Him during His agony, to the criminal beside Him who hurled insults.

And to the other criminal, who also “deserved what he got,” and who spoke up for the Brother he didn’t know He had.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” was Christ’s pronouncement upon the mockers.

“Today you will be with me in paradise,” was his response to the man dying at His side.

A Kind Brother, A Good Father

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Surely, if Christ — who by His own words is in the Father, and the Father in Him — showed compassion and grace to those who vilified Him, why are we so convinced that He, and Our Father, are out to get us for every bad thought, every selfish action, every sinful desire that we give into?

Is this the way a wise parent guides and instructs his children?

Obviously no, although maybe not so obvious, because one tendency of evangelical Christendom is to encourage instant, almost military-style obedience from one’s children, the lack of which theoretically shows up the parents’ inability to fulfill 1 Timothy 3:4 — “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”

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(There’s nothing in the passage about snapping out orders, but there is mention of temperance, self-control, hospitality, and gentleness, attributes which, one thinks, should be extended to one’s children as well as to those outside the family circle.)

We are far too ready to embrace condemnation as an inevitable, necessary part of our relationship with God, but before we wholeheartedly accept that this is the way things must be, maybe we should ask our Father:

Do you condemn me?

The answer is in Roman 8:1.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Years ago, when I first started seeking God’s love and acceptance and mentioned to others that the God I had been taught was a condemning one, I was condemned by another Christian for, guess what? Not trusting God enough.

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Previous Posts

If I Were Taller, I'd Look Thinner, and Other Bible Truths
"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" Matthew 6:27 I ran into this verse the other day, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I'd never seen it before. Oh, I've seen one like it -- my New International Version ...

posted 10:22:15am Apr. 24, 2015 | read full post »

Christian Sheep: We Can Learn from Goats
I'll never forget the first time I milked a goat. My best friend from college, whose degree was in animal husbandry but who more importantly kept goats and milked them herself, was convinced that my family needed two of the animals, because ...

posted 11:21:08am Apr. 22, 2015 | read full post »

It’s a Secret, but Many Christians Do Distrust God
"Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 We all approach life from a certain world view. And while the dictators of politically correct doctrine decry bias as a bad thing, it's really just a realistic ...

posted 10:39:06am Apr. 17, 2015 | read full post »

Abusive Christianity
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1) Any time we are in an abusive or controlling relationship, it takes effort to emerge from it, our independence and self-worth repaired and brought ...

posted 12:07:53pm Apr. 15, 2015 | read full post »

Are You Ashamed of Your Job Title?
"Jesus turned and saw her. 'Take heart, daughter,' he said, 'your faith has healed you.'" (Matthew 9:18) How we define ourselves matters. All too frequently, we squeeze ourselves into little boxes, ones set before us by a corporate society ...

posted 11:49:00am Apr. 10, 2015 | read full post »

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