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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Submission to Authority — and the Gag Reflex

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” (Mark 12:17)

On Facebook, which is as good a source of national news as any, I ran across a post lambasting our present president for doing what all presidents do, which is, in effect, not fulfilling the promises they made to secure election in the first place.

Authority

There are a lot of people, and institutions, who will gladly dictate our very thoughts, if we allow them. Graphic by Carolyn Henderson.

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And while this is a bipartisan predilection not unique to the United States, the difference about living in a “free” country as opposed to one which more openly admits its control issues, is that we, as citizens, are theoretically able to critique our leaders — who, also theoretically, are supposed to be working “for” and “under” us.

Freedom of speech and all that.

But freedom — political, social, religious, financial — is such a truly powerful force, one capable of releasing people from servitude to evil, that it needs to be parsed, controlled, defined, and limited. And those who demand the most control are those who stand to benefit best by limiting the freedom of others; after all, the less money you and I have, the more someone else gets, and hoards.

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(If God had allowed the Hebrews, when collecting manna in the desert, to hold some back, how long do you think it would have taken before there was a shortage of a resource that was sufficient to meet the needs of all?)

So, back to this Facebook post: despite this being a theoretically democratic country in which ordinary citizens are expected to get involved and hold leaders (both elected and self-imposed) accountable for their actions and promises, the Voice of Contemporary, Subservient-to-Authority Christianity was heard in the posted comment:

“Thou Shalt Not Think”

“This is a Christian forum. And as Christians, we are commanded to pray for our leaders, not criticize them.”

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Submission, accountability, obedience, deference, and subjection — for all that these traits are preached as virtues to the Christian community, one would think that

1) We live, like the early Christians did, under a political and financial regime that looks like ancient Rome

and

2) The chain of man-made authority is so holy and sanctioned by God, that we are unable to reach Him without going through the potentate immediately above us, whether that be the husband who controls the wife, the manager who oversees the employee, the policeman who exerts dominion over the citizen, the master who owns the slave, or the church elder board, working under a commercially savvy mega-pastor, that crafts policy — parochial and personal — to shape the church goers’ spiritual lives.

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Love, from Paris, inspirational original oil painting of vogue woman in paris france with eiffel tower by Steve Henderson

Confident, outspoken, secure, thoughtful — there’s something engaging about a person who knows where she’s going and is comfortable in her shoes. Love, from Paris, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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Indeed, more than one self-imposed, national Christian “leader” and seminar speaker has made a comfortable living instructing other Christians to not argue with what they are told, and to hold Romans 13 (“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities . . . “) and Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority“) as the principal passages of Scripture around which all of Jesus’s teaching, and ministry, revolve.

But the thing about Bible verses, and the Bible itself, actually, is that they’re not meant to be a means to control others, so much as they are to teach us about God. And since God is big, powerful, complex, and awesome, in addition to being merciful, loving, gracious, and forgiving, pulling a couple verses out of context and forcing people to bow under them, subservient and passive, is to basically rip out the four gospels and toss them in the wood stove.

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Love, First

In other words, when we read the Bible, if the unconditional love of God for His children is not always at the forefront of our mind, we are in real danger of extracting a verse here and a verse there, and using them to dictate people’s behavior.

Which is precisely what has happened within the contemporary, establishment, sitting-in-the-pews Christian community:

So accustomed is this group to being seen as sheep, that members do not ask who is their shepherd, and too readily follow human teaching in this area, accepting that, as Christians — even Christians who live in a “free” country — they are to obey, and obey, and obey, and that to question, or assert one’s rights, is wrong.

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Wives must listen to husbands, and husbands bow to the males above them — the deacons to the elders, the elders to the pastor, the pastor to the regional director, the regional director to the national president, the national president to . . . whom? God, apparently. It’s a long, serpentine road to our Father.

Political, Military Christianity

Even more intriguing is that politics are so intertwined within spirituality: people in uniform are accorded more honor than those in t-shirts, magnates with money are accepted as blessed, Republicans and conservatives are synonymous to Christianity, Ronald Reagan is a patron saint.

But none of this has anything to do with Jesus, who interacted with the lowly more than he did the stately, interfacing with each as a human being who was born and would eventually die (isn’t that comforting? Death is one area where we are all equal, and even the rich and powerful must experience it). Jesus saw that the denarius — with its image of Caesar on the front — was a man-made product that wasn’t particularly impressive to God. Give it to the people who covet it, He effectively said, and don’t let it control you.

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And when He talked about submission, true submission, it was in reference to His own, for He came down not to do His own will but that of His Father (John 6:38), and we, as God’s children, are to do the same. And despite false teachings that will never go away because they result in a passively obedient populace, Jesus did not set up a ladder of authority with the bulk of us on the bottom rung. He is our Eldest brother, and we are members of a family who are all loved by the same Father.

“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to stop allowing others — and frequently paying them to do so! —  to do the thinking for them.

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Blind Obedience

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Cucumbers, Jesus, and Deception

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5)

The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are perplexing concepts, and depending upon with whom you speak, they are either two different things, or the same one. They also represent something that will happen in the future, after we die (think, conventional evangelical teaching), or exist here and now. Regarding the latter, how good it looks down here depends upon how hard we work to make it that way (which, frankly, is not particularly encouraging).

Produce from Deer Pond Gardens

In a dry desert, with only manna to eat, the Hebrew people were tempted to remember the wonderful produce in Egypt, but not the cost of acquiring it and eating it. Photo credit Deer Pond Gardens and Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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And of course, the logical course is usually in the middle:

“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks,” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:23. In other words, it’s happening now, but is not completely fulfilled: a little bit of both, left side/right side/meet in the middle.

“Some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom,” Jesus says in Matthew 16:28, a verse that’s difficult, when we pay attention to the actual words, to ascribe wholly to the future.

Republican Christians

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And yet, within many conventional, evangelical, Republican circles, where my spiritual life spun aimlessly around for far too long, the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are primarily in the future, after we die. This being so, it would be logical to ask (that is, if one has not yet been trained out of asking questions): if it’s all in the future, and there’s nothing to experience now, why not just die and get it over with?

But of course we won’t do that, literally, since that would add yet another sin to the bag we sling across people’s backs, but the result is that too many Christians live as if there were nothing to do in this world but argue with people about the next one, and the entire Chapter 13 in Matthew is wasted because we don’t have to worry about understanding any of that stuff yet.

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Nor do we have to obsess too much about the poor, meek, mourning, hungry or persecuted people in the Beatitudes of Matthew Chapter 5, because they’ll eventually die and make it to the Kingdom of Heaven, where everything will be perfect. As one person put it, many Christians live a watered down version of Gnosticism.

Citizens of the Kingdom of God

Whatever the Kingdom of God and Heaven is, it’s fairly clear that Jesus is a prominent citizen of the place, and as children in the household of His and our Father, we, too, belong to this kingdom: now, and through eternity. Also reasonable to infer is that the Kingdom of God does not operate on the same basis as the kingdom of man (Matthew 6:19-21), this latter encompassing all the nations and rulers of the world (whether or not they announce themselves, as some are prone to do in the United States, as a “Christian Nation).

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Lilac Festival inspirational original oil painting of little girl in dress by flower bush in garden by Steve Henderson licensed home decor wall art at Framed Canvas Art and amazon.com

This is an example of what a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven looks like — success there is not defined by the tailored cut of one’s business suit. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed home wall art decor at Amazon and Framed Canvas Art.

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Satan himself defined the opposite of the Kingdom of God when he led Christ “up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.’ “ (Luke 4:6)

Corporations, governments, universities, media, religious organizations, financial institutions: if it looks man made, it probably is. And while this is not to say that these places are run by Satanists, it is to say that, when man runs something — outside of God — he does it with a healthy dose of deceit, deception, duplicity, and a cunning approach to marketing in which the truth is not necessarily the most important piece of information we promote. As a culture, we in the United States are so accustomed to the acceptability of manipulating people into buying what they don’t want or need, that we can’t see any other way of doing things.

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But there is another way — outside of the kingdoms of men — and it is in the Kingdom of God, where those of us who call God Father live, and we are called to the extremely difficult task of separating cultural norms (the kingdom of man) from spiritual truth (the Kingdom of God).

Corporate Christianity Has Nothing to Do with Jesus

In short: the Kingdom of God and Heaven looks diametrically different from the kingdom of man, and never the twain shall meet.

Living as a member of the Kingdom of God while straddling the kingdom of man is akin to the Hebrew people, brought out by God from slavery in Egypt, who longed to be back at the pyramids, because there were cucumbers there. (Numbers 11:5) It’s simply impossible to be in two separate geographical locations at the same time, and while to exchange freedom (with boring old manna) for slavery (and cucumbers) is foolish, this did not stop the Hebrews from discounting one as they hearkened after the illusions of the other.

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So do we do, when we try to reconcile the path to “success” by using man made means — Attitude! Say the right words! A little lie won’t hurt ya — with Jesus’s frustrating message of seeking Him first. It is little wonder that too many Christian businesses and establishments, not to mention individuals who call themselves Christians, are visually indistinguishable from their secular counterparts. They all do the same thing, except one tosses the name “Jesus” around.

It’s not as simple as not swearing, or wearing skirts below the knees (for women), or listening to “Christian” “worship” music. If it were, then what the legalists propound would be the best hope we have.

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It’s deep, complex, and difficult — because it means acting with compassion, grace, mercy and trust as opposed to following Dale Carnegie’s advice in How to Win Friends and Influence People. That book, along with all its modern copycats — both “Christian” and secular — functions as the Bible for many.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my eyes are increasingly open to the vast array of deception that makes up our everyday life. If it were a dust, we’d be covered in it.

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Too Many People Are Going to Hell

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” Ezekiel 33:11

I intensely dislike my phone company.

Dandelions inspirational original oil painting of little girl and mother in green grass meadow with flowers by Steve Henderson licensed open edition wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Vision Art Galleries, Art.com, Amazon.com, and AllPosters.com

Our doctrine of hell is harsh, and before we defend it so stalwartly, we might ask ourselves if it is in line with the Jesus we see in the gospels. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvas

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Every month they send me an abstruse, intricately convoluted bill to charge me for two things — basic phone service and Internet — and the amount of the bill is never the same. Sometimes it differs from last month’s by pennies, other times it’s $30 or so. Trying to track why they charge what they do is beyond my intellectual capacity.

So I call them, and after waiting 20 minutes and being passed to an average of 3 people, I generally get the problem solved — never to my satisfaction, but at least to what I can bear. When there’s a mistake — whether on my part of theirs — the payment for it always falls to me, and while this never makes sense, what can I say? They’re the only provider of this “service” in my rural area.

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When I think of the phone company — something I avoid since they’re irritating — I am profoundly grateful that God does not operate on this random, thoughtless, inefficient, disinterested system, although, if a person’s only exposure to Christianity is the fundamentalist, establishment sort that we encounter on Sunday morning and Wednesday night small groups, one can be forgiven for not seeing it this way.

Forgiveness

Because forgiveness is what it’s all about, and forgiveness — in evangelical land — is remarkably difficult to get, that is, if you live in a society where there is no mention of the God of the Hebrews, and the cultural norm is something different. In other words, if you live outside the United States, Canada, or Western Europe. (Israel doesn’t count, since in the pro-Zionist belief system of many Christians who passively accept the words of too many mega-church preachers, Jews receive a special dispensation of forgiveness denied to the rest of us.)

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Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother and child in victorian home by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at framed canvas art, amazon.com, and icanvas

Think logically: how much of a paradise is it when the people we love most are separated from us forever? Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at amazon, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

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For “those people,” the 9/10 of the world that is labeled lost, the only means to salvation is to “accept Jesus as savior” with a series of phrases that one is walked through at a football stadium with a noted speaker at the podium and volunteers in the aisles. But when a person doesn’t say the right words, he’s lost, for eternity. It all. comes down. to words.

This is such a prevalent belief in mainstream Christianity that to question it is to earn the dreaded appellation of universalist, as if there were something wrong in “taking no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” while the mindless acceptance of a disturbing contradiction is, somehow, doctrinally approved:

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If a child’s mother dies before her, without saying the right words, and spends eternity in hell, how does the child, upon later saying the words, experience eternal bliss away from her mother, especially knowing the fate of that mother?

Jesus Didn’t Follow the Four Spiritual Laws

Jesus Himself seemed to have had difficulty in applying the Four Spiritual Laws when He outright and explicitly forgave the sin of a weeping woman who washed His feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50) and the man who was lowered by his friends from the roof overhead (Luke 5:17-26/Mark 2:1-12/Matthew 9:1-7). In both cases, the response of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law was the same:

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“Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21)

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the leaders were actually irritated at Jesus for forgiving the sins of hurting, aching sinners, preferring, instead, that these wretched people not “turn from their ways and live.”

I get a similar feeling when I speak to many conventional Christians, who sigh with a shallow sadness upon an earthquake occurring in a distant land and killing thousands of human beings:

“How horrible that so many of them didn’t know Jesus!” the church-goers murmur.  “But thank goodness, the Christian relief teams will be able to share the good news with the survivors!”

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What’s the good news? “I’m so sorry. Your husband and son will burn in hell for eternity, but you yourself can live forever in Paradise, if you simply repeat these words after me.”

It makes about as much sense as my phone bill.

Mercy and Grace Trump Doctrine and Law

My brothers and sisters in Christ, I know the words — I attended years worth of conventional church services, and I have had recited to me, more than once, “Confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) and “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household,” (Acts 16:31) although the last four words are generally dropped from the latter verse.

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This same Bible, however, says something of possible interest to those highly militarized Christians who advocate invading sovereign (generally Islamic) nations and putting to death both military and civilians:

“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins,” (Matthew 6:15)

giving the strong idea that words alone are not what God wants of His people, but “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Repentance is not a one-time thing, nor is it accomplished simply by saying words — rather, it is a mindset, a way of living, a distinct choice to live differently than those around us, including those who say they’re already in the club. With this in mind, it’s interesting to note that the verse above, from 2 Peter, is addressed to believers, who, those of us who are human know, do not always act in a Christ-like manner.

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Dear friends, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11-12)

This means that, if you truly believe that the world is lost if it doesn’t say the words, then you need to get out there — out in that area where 9/10 of the people are living —  and urge people to say the words.

But better yet, why not do what Jesus did: love people, accept them, listen to them in their pain, be merciful, and leave the judgment — and the judging — to God?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. We frequently say, “Jesus is love,” but what does that mean? Perhaps we spend too much time trying to fit into doctrinal molds, when we would be better off contemplating just who Jesus is, and why people were so attracted to Him.

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I’d Like to Change My Job Description

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Colossians 4:23, 24

If you’ve heard enough church sermons, maybe you’ve run into the joke about the man who was caught in a horrible flood, and found himself on the top of his roof, looking down at the water lapping his feet.

Dory Beach inspirational original oil painting of small dory boats on beach by puget sound by Steve Henderson

It’s not a luxury cruise liner, but it floats. Dory Beach, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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“Oh God,” he prayed. “Save me!”

Just then a man approached in a canoe. “Get in!” he called.

“Oh, no thank you,” the man on the roof called back. “I have prayed and God will send me help.”

“Okay,” the other shrugged.

Shortly afterwards a man floated by in a makeshift raft, and again invited the stranded homeowner in. Same answer — God would provide.

The third time it was a leaky rowboat, and for the third time, the man on the roof opted to wait — only by this time the water was up around his chest. Shortly thereafter, it engulfed and drowned him, and the man found himself in heaven before God.

“I prayed to you!” the man said in confusion, “but you never answered.”

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“Yes, I did,” God replied. “I sent you a canoe, a raft, and a rowboat, and you said no to each one of them.”

Leaky Rowboats

Sometimes, when we pray to God about a situation — our job, our marriage, our health, our family, our future, our hopes and dreams —  it seems like He sends us a leaky rowboat — and I think He does, actually. While all we can see is the water in the bottom that needs to be bailed out, the single oar, and the lackluster appearance of the life preserver, it’s easy to forget that the boat, though it’s ratty and ugly, does manage to fulfill the one major function of a boat: it transports us through water.

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It won’t do it comfortably, it won’t do it with any modicum of style or coolness, and it probably won’t do it easily, but when our primary objective is to get off the roof and not drown, all we really need is something that floats.

Shore Leave inspirational original oil painting on rowboats of beach in Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor at art.com, amazon.com allposters.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

It’s wise to remember that, just because the boat is small and plain, this doesn’t mean that it can’t take us to a beautiful place. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed wall art home decor at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, AllPosters, Amazon, Art. com, and Framed Canvas Art

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I was reminded of this recently as we negotiated a delicate situation that, ideally, would be resolved perfectly and well — in praying for the answer, I had it clear in my mind just what that answer should be. The major problem, however, was that achieving the perfect result was out of my hands. All I could see, six inches in front of my face, was one small thing that I could do:

One, small, insignificant thing, but the best thing about this thing is that it was, indeed, something I could do. So, I did it.

And then, as I got into the boat and steadied my balance from tipping, I saw a second small, insignificant thing — which grew out of the actions of the first — that I could do. So I grabbed the one oar, since it was better than nothing, and did that second small, insignificant thing.

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It goes on — a second action leads to a third, a third to a fourth, and at some point you realize, though your feet are wet because there’s always water in the bottom of the boat — which you keep bailing out with the bent-up tin can you found under the seat — you’re still afloat, and the current is taking you somewhere.

“Oh, God — I Wish Things Would Work out!”

The problem remains alive and well, just looking different because you’ve done whatever little thing you were given to do regarding it, and while you still dream about a king-sized suite in a private yacht with an experienced captain and a working motor, you do acknowledge that you’re no longer on the roof. Indeed, you’re so far away from the roof that it’s no longer visible.

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Over the last several days, I have interacted with three separate people, facing three completely divergent, significant issues in their lives, who sighed,

“I just wish things would work out the way I wish they would!”

Oh, I hear that. I do, do hear that.

But at the same point, I know — from experience — that waiting, especially, is part of the job description, and that as members of our Father’s household, it is an indispensable part of what He asks us to do, as we go about working for Him, and the kingdom of heaven.

When we pray, He does answer. But because it so very rarely looks the way we humanly expect it to, it is tempting to turn our backs on the rowboat. And while the boat is not really what we want, and it doesn’t look like it will take us anywhere, our objections to it aren’t strong enough to preclude our getting in.

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We are asked to do nothing more than accomplish what is set before us, and the more insignificant and unimportant the task is — in comparison to the big requests we are making — the harder this is to do.

But the encouraging news is this: that’s all we have to do, just the stuff set before us. And while it is frustratingly insignificant and so far from the mighty work that we are looking for, we “work at it with all our heart, as working for the Lord, not men, (because) . . . it is the Lord Christ we are serving.”

He took five loaves and two fish to feed thousands.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage you, in facing an insurmountable issue, to leave it in the hands of the Person who is bigger than your problem.

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Previous Posts

Submission to Authority -- and the Gag Reflex
"Then Jesus said to them, 'Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." (Mark 12:17) On Facebook, which is as good a source of national news as any, I ran across a post lambasting our present president for doing what all ...

posted 1:36:33pm Jun. 24, 2015 | read full post »

Cucumbers, Jesus, and Deception
"If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost -- also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic." (Numbers 11:5) The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are perplexing concepts, and depending upon ...

posted 1:38:43pm Jun. 19, 2015 | read full post »

Too Many People Are Going to Hell
"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live." Ezekiel 33:11 I intensely dislike my phone company. [caption id="attachment_1702" ...

posted 11:59:18am Jun. 17, 2015 | read full post »

I'd Like to Change My Job Description
"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving." Colossians 4:23, 24 If you've heard enough church sermons, maybe you've run into the joke about the man who ...

posted 4:11:08pm Jun. 12, 2015 | read full post »

The Obnoxious Jesus
"When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.' " (Luke 5:21) Jesus Heals a Paralytic. This is the chapter heading that one of my Bibles (NIV Study, 1985) uses to describe passages in Mark 2:1-12 and Luke 5:17-26, ...

posted 12:10:04pm Jun. 10, 2015 | read full post »

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