Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Contemporary Corporate Christianity

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

In contemporary establishment Christianity, many of the terms and concepts used are borrowed from the corporate world. For an ordinary worker bee, this means that on Sunday, as well as throughout the week, he is told to “take ownership of a project,” or “integrate with community,” obfuscated language that makes one grateful that the Bible wasn’t written today.

Crystalline Waters inspirational original oil painting of mountain alpine lake in the Wallowas of Oregon by Steve Henderson

The difference between corporate Christianity and the real thing mirrors the difference between a big city and a rural scene in the mountains. Crystalline Waters, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Another favorite is “servant leader,” a business-seminar concept that is tailor-made for the church setting. After all, didn’t Jesus talk about being a servant all the time? And wasn’t He a leader?

This is all very true, but in contemporary religious leadership’s efforts to encourage ordinary people to be last of all and servant of all (Matthew 9:35), it is conveniently overlooked that this teaching applies to all of us, and that the context of this teaching lies in an argument among the disciples over who was the greatest.

“Servant-Leader,” quite frankly, is not a term one finds in the Bible, although “servant” appears copiously. “Leader,” “ruler,” “shepherd,” “teacher,” “authorities,” and similar terms in Scripture – while they represent positions that humans grasp and crave, come with heavy responsibilities — and are easily misused and misapplied, as Jesus points out in Matthew 20:25-28.

Gentile Rulers

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.”

Interestingly, Jesus does not mention book deals, speaking engagements, meetings with the Pope, prayer breakfasts with the president of the United States, or membership in the World Council of Churches. These are not necessarily bad things, but when one looks at the lifestyles of the people heavily involved in the “leadership” aspect of the business of Christianity, it is difficult to identify the “servant” part.

Which brings us back to Joshua, a mighty man of valor of the Old Testament, who, in his ringing speech to the Israelites in Joshua chapter 23, makes it very clear who his leader is, and what is his relationship to Him:

“And as for you,” Joshua tells the people and its leaders in verse 9, “no man has been able to stand before you to this day.”

Not, he does not add, because of Joshua’s incredible prowess as a military leader:

“One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your god who fights for you, just as he promised you.”

Taking God for Granted

Joshua knows that Israel’s blessings, and its very ability to inhabit a land that was ruled by other, far more powerful armies, was due to God, and God alone, and that this blessing from above was not something to be taken lightly or for granted. To maintain it, ALL of God’s people needed to be under His leadership. Even within a nation, the actions of each individual were important.

“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God,” Joshua continues in verse 11.

“For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you.”

Those of us who have read the rest of the story know that these words were true, and that in later years, the Hebrews demanded a king “like all the nations,” (Samuel 8:5), and increasingly, copied the religious, political, and social practices of the remnant of those nations around them.

So it is today, and throughout history, with us as Christians. It didn’t take long after Jesus ascended before we set up a hierarchy of authoritative leadership, overriding a spiritual relationship that is supposed to encourage a direct contact between each individual believer and His God.

Copying Corporations

And while leaders, and shepherds, are not a bad thing, they are when they copy the culture of the Canaanites around them, which in the 21st century uses words like “intentional,” “living in the now,” “taking ownership of a project,” and “servant-leader.” Christianity is not supposed to copy the corporate world.

But it does.

That’s the bad news.

But the good news is in Joshua’s words, his command that the people “not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.” (Joshua 23:7)

The lesson for us, steeped in a culture that assaults us with deception through its mass media and political and financial systems, is not that we leave and inhabit another planet, nor that we isolate ourselves within a Christian sub-culture (which is funded, and promoted, incidentally, by the non-Christian corporate world), but that we not copy the actions of those around us, and that our every action, thought, and word be done in light of truth, as opposed to a concern about fitting in, and getting our piece of the pie.

Christian leaders should look different, like Joshua. And whether or not they do, all of us are called to the same choice of whom, or what to serve, and whether or not we say, as Joshua did,

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

Deception is Brilliant and . . . Wrong

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.” (Joshua 9:5)

It’s not necessarily a compliment to be called clever, cunning, canny and shrewd, although in the society in which I live, the United States, fooling people is considered not a vice, but a virtue.

After all, if you want to get ahead — really ahead — you have to step on a few faces. We accept this, even among Christians, and some go so far as to embrace it, along the lines of being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with green hat and radishes by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Amazon.com, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art.

It all started in a garden, and it won’t end until the end. Innocence and deception have always been at variance. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, and iCanvas.

The problem is, we tend to overlook that “innocent as doves” part, convincing ourselves that Jesus was encouraging us to adopt the snake-like practices of our cultural corporate norm, something that does not align with basic tenets of His teachings like, do not steal, or do not give false testimony (Matthew 19:18). Rather, we are to be wise, not crafty; innocent, not gullible.

Brilliant Deception

The verse at the head of this essay describes the brilliant, absolutely masterful deception of the Gibeonite people, who lived in the midst of the territory that the Hebrews, after their 40 years of wandering through the desert in Sinai, swept through and conquered.

Alarmed at the way things were going, the Gibeonites dressed as if they had come from afar, as opposed to living very, very close, and used a script worthy of any advertising campaign or political speech today to convince the Israelites that they, the Gibeonites, were eager to make a truce with these newly powerful people because they, the Gibeonites, were so impressed by the Jews’ wonderful God.

“For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan — Sihon, king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.” (Joshua 9:9)

I’ll bet they heard — and without FOX news at that.

Moldy Bread

To add credence to their story, the Gibeonites added,

“This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 

“And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.” (Joshua 9:12-13)

At this point, Joshua and the leaders of the Israelite did one smart thing and one foolish one, with the latter eclipsing any benefits of the former:

They sampled the Gibeonites’ provisions and found that their descriptions of the bread and the wineskins and the clothing were accurate and true.

What was not accurate and true, however, were the Gibeonites’ explanation of why their provisions were so worn, something that would have been brought out to Joshua if he had stepped aside, gone to God — who has been generously communicating with him throughout the book — and inquired of Him.

Instead, “Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.” (v. 15)

Three days later, the Israelites discovered that the Gibeonites were very close neighbors, with whom they were stuck, because they had made a treaty with them.

(As an aside, the Gibeonites didn’t  benefit generously from their deception: the irritated Hebrews made them permanent slaves to the Israelite community; and the neighboring kings banded together to attack the Gibeonites for going behind everyone’s back to save their own skins. Rarely does one see deception paid back in kind so quickly and so well.)

A Cultural Norm

Now from the point of a person who lives in my culture — which believes that if you’re dumb enough to believe what you’re told, then you deserve everything you get — Joshua and the leaders made a mistake because they weren’t smart, savvy, and quick, “virtues” of mankind which are elevated to almost godlike proportions in our 21st century globalized, industrial, corporate, and military state.

Their mistake, however, was not that they weren’t as clever as the people around them, but that they didn’t consult their leader and God, who catches the wise in their craftiness and knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:19-20).

Man can’t outsmart God.

But he can, and does, outsmart other men, and when those other men make a point of listening, regularly, to the words and stories of clever speakers — in political speeches, on the news, at the movies (“based upon a TRUE story!”), in the classroom, at the university, on the back of the cereal box — and believing everything they are told without question, and without holding it up to the standards of truth God has put forth in His book and in the world of nature that He created, then the deceptive people get ahead.

And many followers of God — who are told to be wise, not foolish; but innocent, not conforming to the practices of those around them — are deluded into accepting that if you don’t join the bad guys at their own game, then you’ll lose.

But you don’t win by joining the bad guys. You win by following the one and only Good Guy, and asking Him, as Joshua and the leaders should have, about things.

Wise, not stupid.

Innocent, not sly.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

 

When Our Strength Is Our God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“They sweep past like the wind and go on — guilty men, whose own strength is their god.” (Habakkuk 1:11)

The society in which I live, the United States, is one which extols wit, cunning, business acumen, financial savvy, confidence, and strength.

Canyon Silhouettes inspirational original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at vision art galleries

As humans who live a limited life span, it’s absurd to contend against the One who made the mountains and the valleys. Canyon Silhouette by Steve Henderson, licensed image at Vision Art Galleries

While this is not necessarily the list of attributes worshiped by ordinary people, it is what is promoted throughout our highly and increasingly corporate culture. Lip service is given to the independence and sacrifices made by our forefathers — the immigrants who arrived here with little more than a dream and the willingness to to work hard so their children could have the life their parents longed for; pioneers who paved the way, many with their dead bodies, so that bankers and business magnates could arrive later and commandeer the infrastructure that ordinary people established; extended families during the Great Depression — this event actualized under the aegis of those bankers and businessmen, with the complicity of bureaucrats — who scrimped and saved and made do and repurposed and taught their children that there is dignity even in poverty.

(As an aside, it would be wise for us to remember the lessons of our hardworking, ordinary ancestors, so that we can get through, with dignity, the years ahead.)

The Babylonians

The verse at the head of this essay refers to the Chaldeans, or Babylonians, who in the 7th and 6th century B.C. swept through Mesopotamia and took over peoples, cultures, and nations, and not in a particularly nice fashion:

“They deride kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; they build earthen ramps and capture them.” (1:10)

Nobody wanted to be conquered by the Chaldeans, but, as is the case when one side has a massive amount of money, power, ruthlessly ambitious leadership, military might, and expendable fighting men, the smaller people in the way didn’t have much chance.

And the Hebrew people fell into this category of smaller people. Divided into two kingdoms after the death of Solomon, God’s chosen people struggled against their surrounding adversaries, with the northern kingdom, representing 10 of the tribes, succumbing to the Assyrians (another very bad sort) in 722 B.C. The kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

It is not as if, however, that the Hebrew people did not have fair warning that bad things were going to happen, and this is what the prophets, including Habakkuk, are all about. Their primary purpose was to remonstrate with those under God’s leadership, admonishing them about their religious practice which, through the history of this “stiff-necked people,” (Exodus 32:9; Acts 7:51), had imitated and echoed the pagan practices of those around them.

A Reasonable God

God is not unreasonable — He wasn’t upset because His children were lighting candles or sitting when they should have been standing. God’s issue was more along the lines of,

Lilac Festival inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with flowers by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.com

Children are extremely precious to God and He, like honorable men and women, gets angry when they are exploited, trafficked, abused, ceremonially sacrificed, and mistreated. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Amazon and Framed Canvas Art.

“They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fires — something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.” (Jeremiah 7:31)

So back to Habakkuk, God is warning His people that, because of their insistence upon worshiping the gods of men and turning away from Him, He is giving them, for a time, to the hands of the Babylonians, these guilty men, whose own strength is their god.

The unspoken implication is that the Hebrew people, who have been blessed by the hand of God time and time again, despite their inability or unwillingness to acknowledge this, should be finding their God as their strength, and by doing so, will overcome those whose strength is their god. It is a long, difficult, and painful lesson, and continues, throughout humanity, through today.

We Christians, since the gift of life through Jesus, have been brought into the family of Abraham’s children, and we, like the Hebrews of old, live in a world of men whose strength is their god. It is remarkably tempting to try, as the Hebrew people did, to blend our belief with God in with the practices of men, and while present corporate and three-piece suit society does not ostensibly  build large statues of Baal and toss live babies into its burning depths, it does throw a lot of people in front of the wolves.

“It’s a dog eat dog world out there,” we’re told. And in order to make it, sometimes we have to lie, or, if we don’t feel comfortable actively lying, practice deceit by not always telling the full truth. It’s still a lie, but much of what we see as normal and acceptable because it fits within cultural parameters, doesn’t stand strongly when we set it in front of God’s throne.

Manipulation

I always remember a church we once attended that was having trouble with its faltering Sunday School program, and to solve the problem, they switched the main service (which most people attended) with the less popular event. Now, in order to attend the church service people wanted to attend, they had to arrive earlier, and, since they were already there, they were encouraged to stay for Sunday School. I don’t know if it worked or not. We left.

It seems like such a small thing, doesn’t it? But when we walk with God, motive matters, and when the motive is to manipulate, we are relying upon the ways of men, men whose strength is their god, not whose God is their strength.

In the case of Babylon, the great, the conquering, and the unconquerable, Jeremiah chapter 50 records her fate (before it happened, incidentally):

“A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both men and animals will flee away.” (50:3)

Persia, the next great nation of men whose god is their strength, swept through. Alexander the Great of Macedonia, whose god was his strength, later conquered Persia. Rome — upon which the United States proudly bases its system of government — eventually became the next big power. And then Rome fell.

There’s sort of a pattern here, one which strongly implicates that making one’s strength one’s god isn’t a particularly good idea.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity

 

Three Things God Wants Us to DO

posted by Carolyn Henderson

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Those of us who attended church in the 1980s are familiar with the musical version of this verse. As with any Scripture that is set to music and presented during “worship service,” however, it’s easy to sing the words without thinking, and be pretty much unable to read them without the melody playing in the background.

Morning's Glory by Steve Henderson still life

Morning’s Glory by Steve Henderson

It’s worth slowing down, reading and re-reading this, however, to the point that the words come through, because it’s part of human existence, at some point in it, to cry out, “Just what is it You want me to DO, anyway?”

It all seems so complicated, but as this verse brings out, it comes down to three things:

1) Act Justly.

In a society where the norms of justice include finding for the plaintiff suing over the coffee being too hot, insisting that it’s the fault of the restaurant for not informing her that it would be so, the definition of justice does not align with God’s intention, if I may use that vastly overused word, “intention,” possibly, for the first time, in its correct context.

“Justice,” in God’s eyes, means that the widows are not homeless, the children are not exploited, the defenseless are not are not fooled and tricked and manipulated simply because they don’t have money to fight back.

“Justice” is not something to be bought, sold to the highest bidder, unable to be secured without the services of high-priced corporate magnates and lawyers who operate, not on the honor or truth of their client’s cause, but its profitability.

And while there is little that we can do, wholesale, about the injustice of man’s justice system, as individual Christians, we ourselves can be just. As with anything God asks us to do, this starts on a small, intimate level, within friends and family, by forgiving someone in that circle who has hurt us. Whether or not we have grounds to be angry, we can be just enough to acknowledge that we are not sinless ourselves, unable to hurt in the way we have been hurt.

On a wider spectrum, we extend justice to others, even strangers, by taking to heart the theoretical tenet of the U.S. justice system, that a person is innocent until determined to be guilty, and not convict someone, mentally or aloud in a group, based upon the limited, and very misleading, information we receive from newspapers and police reports.

2) Love Mercy.

“Mercy” brings to mind a conqueror standing over a vanquished foe, staying his hand from using the sword, which is all very dramatic, but tends to be out of the scope for most of us in our normal day.

Another word for mercy, however, is kindness, and all of us can remember benefiting from acts of that. The widows, orphans, defenseless, powerless, weak, and vulnerable come to mind, and while U.S. culture frowns upon weakness as a sin, it is a state of being that all humans, at some point, live through.

Whether we are medically challenged, physically weary, financially strapped, emotionally exhausted, or spiritually bereft (sick, tired, poor, overcome, or empty) we all, at some point, need kindness, understanding, grace, and just plain help from others — and indeed, those who don’t realize, recognize, or acknowledge this are the most to be pitied, because they haven’t yet learned that they are not omnipotent.

But if we have come to the point of realizing that we are mortal with finite powers, then we are in the right place to reach down to — not look down upon — those who are aching, whether or not they “brought it upon themselves” or “deserve everything they’re getting.”

That’s not the attitude we hope for when we’re down on the ground, groaning.

3) Walk humbly with your God.

Humility is a treasure that simply cannot be overstated. It is rare, however, that we actively pray for it because, quite frankly, the best way to achieve it is to be pushed down, rejected, set aside, kicked, ignored, discounted, overlooked, laughed at, spurned, and disdained.

Rare is the person who willingly puts himself into positions of participating in these experiences, but the good news is, life itself provides the opportunities. As creatures of free will, we have the option of reacting however we choose, and our default, as humans, is to be angry, bitter, confused, and thirsting for revenge.

Those of us who have lived through these reactions, however, know that they don’t solve the problem, and the person who winds up feeling the worst about it all, is ourselves. Once we have worked through the natural emotions that boil to the surface — and indeed, the best way to work through them is to present them before God, whether it is calmly (generally not so) or accompanied by shouting (He can handle it) — we are in a state of malleability in which the Master Potter can shape us into a better pot, one of clay, but capable of holding the richest treasures.

The best thing that rejection and pain teach us is that the answer does not lie in the approbation, praises, and encomiums of men, but in the love and acceptance of God — and God does not encourage, foment, or preen our pride. He shows us who and what we are, and loves us through it all, not condemning, but encouraging; not censuring, but teaching.

Walking humbly, with our God, is one of the best and most fulfilling things we can do.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

 

Previous Posts

Contemporary Corporate Christianity
“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) In contemporary

posted 12:39:49pm Feb. 20, 2015 | read full post »

Deception is Brilliant and . . . Wrong
"The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy." (Joshua 9:5) It's not necessarily a compliment to be called clever, cunning, canny and shrewd, although in the society in which I live, the United States, fooling peopl

posted 1:08:17pm Feb. 18, 2015 | read full post »

When Our Strength Is Our God
"They sweep past like the wind and go on -- guilty men, whose own strength is their god." (Habakkuk 1:11) The society in which I live, the United States, is one which extols wit, cunning, business acumen, financial savvy, confidence, and strength. [caption id="attachment_1475" align="alignle

posted 10:08:56am Feb. 13, 2015 | read full post »

Three Things God Wants Us to DO
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) Those of us who attended church in the 1980s are familiar with the musical version of this verse. As with any Scripture that is set to mus

posted 12:41:45pm Feb. 11, 2015 | read full post »

Does It Bother You, That People Lie to Us?
"Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?" (Habakkuk 1:3) For many years, like many people, I was contentedly asleep, focusing the majority of my time on minor, day to day things, allowing those things to swallow up an inordinate proportion of my thoughts: I accepted

posted 1:55:36pm Feb. 06, 2015 | read full post »


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