Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Grasping the Goodness of God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

For many years of my young middle adulthood, life was smooth. Not perfect, obviously — when you raise a family of six on one ridiculously modest income, there’s always the stress of making the mandated property tax, insurance payments, and assorted fees involved in living in a “civilized,” bureaucratic regime.

But life was relatively predictable, and God was good.

Enchanted inspirational original oil painting of woman in meadow in green dress by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

The goodness of God is something to bask in, with joy, like warm sun on a spring day. Enchanted, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at art. com, amazon, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

I knew that latter because people were always telling me how good God is, and how much He loves us, and how He is always there to meet our needs. Given that most of our needs were being met adequately through sources considered standard and expected in our society, I really had no need to put my foot on the waters, step off the boat, and see if He would catch me.

But the one constant thing about life is that it never stays the same, and when circumstances blew in, they didn’t leave us much option about stepping off the boat, since they pretty much overturned it and left us hanging on to the sides. At this point, the goodness of God lost it theoretical usance and it became very, very important to know that it is truly real, and something upon which we can depend.

Not Our Default

This is not a concept one learns, accepts, or understands overnight, quite frankly, and it is also not a default setting. Another thing it is also not is something that God blames us, or punishes us, for not having, because,

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4: 15)

That high priest, on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46). We don’t have to wrangle theology to accept the simple fact that feeling abandoned by God, bereft, alone, and in despair, is something that Jesus understands.

This is a significant truth that is well worth reflecting upon, because, when you are going through something especially difficult, excruciatingly painful, and inexplicably confounding, you are sure to run into people who have absolutely no idea of what is happening to you (they’re a bit like I was, in my young middle adult years), and they will respond to your angst by saying,

“God is good. You simply must have more faith. Otherwise, how can He help you?”

Our Faith Comes from God

The central message is that He is limited by our lack of faith, not a particularly hopeful piece of intelligence, because — while you can generate an outward appearance of having faith that is realistic looking enough to fool not only others, but yourself (and this is far easier in the good times when there’s no need to call upon it) — that’s all it is, an outward appearance. True faith, true trust, true rest in God is the result of a process.

Romans 12: 2 tells us to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The Land of Chief Joseph inspirational original oil painting of wallowa mountains and meadow with flowers by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and amazon.com.

The faith to move mountains is not something that we generate within ourselves, but rather, ask God to introduce into our lives and make real. The Land of Chief Joseph, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and amazon.

For grammar fanatics out there, it’s interesting to note that “conform” is in active voice, meaning that we choose to conform, or we don’t; but the renewing of our mind is accomplished by the passive construction of “being transformed” — passive construction, as its name implies, means that we’re not accomplishing the matter directly, but are having it accomplished by someone, in this case, God.

He transforms our minds — and one of the most successful ways this is done is during horrendously difficult circumstances, when the external factors we normally depend upon (a regular paycheck, decent health, or predictable family/friend interaction, for example) implode. I know I am not the only one who has been driven to intense prayer and focused Bible reading in order to learn more about, and connect with, God.

God Outside the Bible

But sometimes, Bible verses aren’t enough — the very succinctness of the words lack, and this is when it’s good to remember Romans 1: 20:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

By looking at the stars, we contemplate His greatness. In the eyes of a child, we see what trust looks like. And in our interactions with others, we see how He honors His promises:

The other day, I let drop a comment to a woman about someone I love who is looking for a job with a particular organization, but can’t get past the singularly unhelpful front desk.

“My brother runs that organization,” she commented. “If you give me the information, I’ll pass it on.”

You can bet that the resume and cover letter were expeditiously placed in her hands. And, now that they are in her hands, I leave them there, trusting to her goodness, integrity, and honor in fulfilling the promise that she made. I do not need to pop by, several times a day, and remind her of this promise — indeed, to do so would be casting aspersion upon her character — and yet, when we pray to God, who tells us through 1 Peter 5: 7,

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,”

we feel a necessity to remind, plead, cajole, convince, hint, demand, insist — or worse, for those who have fallen for the lies of the prosperity doctrine, to declare, name, claim, speak a word of faith — as opposed to doing the most difficult thing of all, wait, and trust in the goodness of God.

Ask for what you need, and while you’re there, ask for the trust it will take while you await the answer.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence , so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)

This is the goodness of God.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I am an ordinary Christian who is the child of an extraordinary God. I write to encourage all ordinary people that we can find God, and live in His love, without having to go through a convoluted hierarchy of churchianity, haplessly dependent upon the teaching and guidance of other human beings.

There are good teachers out there, and it is good to learn what we can, where we can, but always with the knowledge that our ultimate teacher is the Holy Spirit, and He will lead us in the direction we need to go.

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Rich Christian, Poor Christian — Which Are You?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I have just spent the last hour cleaning off my desk. To my left is a pile of papers that, if they were dollar bills, would buy me a weekend trip to Hawaii. And that’s just envelopes and circulars: the stuff with identifiable information on it is burning in woodstove hell.

Such is reality in the paperless society of the United States. But “paperless,” like many of the terms we bandy about — “domestic security,” or “economic reform” — means pretty much the opposite of what it sounds like.

Ending the Day on a Good Note original oil painting with 1940s inspirational girl taking off hat next to gramophone by Steve Henderson

“Rich” is subjective — what was wealthy two generations ago could be considered poor today. Better to focus on, and seek, riches that last. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Within the Bible, many words that we think of in one way mean another, but most seeming discrepancies — as opposed to being the result of deceit, manipulation, or disingenuousness — can be reasonably addressed and understood. Take the word “rich” for example.

I am confident that we’re all pretty familiar with the primary meaning of the word “rich” —

Lots and lots of money — as much money, actually, as the average person deals with in paperwork. When a person says, “I want to be rich,” we envision cars, big houses, trips to tropical islands, ownership of the aforementioned tropical islands, and the ability to hire a team of secretaries to handle all of the paperwork.

Another Definition

When the Bible talks about being rich — in a positive sense — it looks different:

“I know your afflictions and your poverty,” God says to the church in Smyrna in Revelation 2: 9, “– yet you are rich!”

To the church in Sardis, which exhibits the form of richness we are more familiar with, and desirous of, He says,

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich, and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness, and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelation 3: 17-18)

It’s not that money is bad — we need it, after all, to buy food, shelter, and clothing, ” . . . for the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6: 32)

More Than We Could Ever Use

It’s the love of money, the drive for it, the blind pursuit of more than we can imagine or actually need, that is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6: 10), and when we focus on this misguided love, first and foremost, we stumble, fall, and become a lesser person than God intends for us to be.

“I want to be rich in Christ,” we say, to ourselves or others. Within, it’s easy to add, “and I want to be rich in the real way, with money.” Part B is proof, somehow, of Part A, but it really isn’t.

Dandelions inspirational original oil painting of little girl and women in meadow with flowers by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Art.com, Amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

Some of our best memories are wrapped around people, relationships, and love, all of which are accessible to people of all incomes. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Amazon, Art .com, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

When we seek Christ, we find Him, and the moment we put our hand in His, we are rich, regardless of what our materialistic state looks like. It’s hard, I know, to accept this: we want Jesus, Plus, but as long as we focus on that Plus, we fall into the trap that Jesus, Period isn’t enough.

He has promised to meet all of our needs. I fully attest that, many times, how He meets my needs isn’t up to my standards, but as my standards are significantly at variance with His, this is all right.

“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6: 18).

The Apostle Paul said that, and most of us would acknowledge he experienced a relationship with Christ that we would like to have, only without the shipwrecks and the languishing in prison and the ultimate martyrdom. But the yucky stuff was instrumental in enriching the relationship, not evidence that the relationship wasn’t as good as it could be.

This latter attitude is one reason why Prosperity Doctrine is so difficult to get out of people’s heads: by intertwining material prosperity with spirituality, false teachers give followers a tangible –albeit misleading — way of showing that they have “enough faith.” By this definition, however, Paul, Peter, John, and even Jesus Himself were lacking in faith, because they were lacking in wealth.

It’s all about Jesus, Plus.

But true spiritual success demands Jesus, Period.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

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Why Standing up for Yourself — at Church — Is So Important

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Just how obedient are Christians expected to be — and who expects them to be this way?

In recent posts, I’ve been discussing Christian submission toward leadership (Must We Obey Church Authorities? and Is It So Bad to Be a Lone Wolf Christian?), and you can’t bring up that topic without someone putting forth Hebrews 13: 17:

Dream Catcher woman with scarf in canyon by Steve Henderson licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, great big canvas, and framed canvas art

Whether you’re at work or church, most of the time when you stand up for yourself, you stand alone. Dream Catcher, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Art. com, Amazon, and Great Big Canvas

“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

The study notes below helpfully explain,

“Dictatorial leadership is not condoned by this command, but respect for authority, orderliness and discipline in the church are taught throughout the New Testament.”

This reminds me of the statement I regularly run into:

“Jesus talked more about hell than He ever did about love,” and my response is the same:

Really? Where?

Throughout the New Testament, grace trumps law.

Obey God, Not Man

Whenever we get into discussions about authority, it’s always good to remember Acts 6: 28-29, in which the apostles Peter and John are questioned by the Sanhedrin:

“‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,’ he (the high priest) said. ‘Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’

“Peter and the other apostles replied, ‘We must obey God rather than men!'”

The apostles were standing before the church leadership of their day, and by the mandates under which many 21st century Christians operate, they should not have answered thus. Their job was to submit, and obey.

Obviously, it’s not as inflexible as this. Hebrews 13: 17 aside, it behooves each and every believer to think clearly and ask questions before they submit their minds, souls, bodies, and beliefs to another man — who is supposed to be “keeping watch” for the sheep’s good, incidentally, and “must give an account” someday for that watching.

Church Attendance Is Voluntary

In the country where I live, the United States, attending church is a voluntary activity, an important thing to bear in mind when somebody demands that we submit to the leadership of the place where we choose to spend our Sundays: we don’t have to be there, you know.

Light in the Forest inspirational oil painting of two women with candles in woods by Steve Henderson licensed prints at amazon.com, framed canvas art, and icanvasart

There are many places where, and manners in which, we can worship God. Light in the Forest, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART

If more people accepted this observation, there would be fewer articles about pastors bullying their congregation, or followers drinking Kool-Ade.

While it is not a bad thing to respect people with learning and wisdom, or accept a certain hierarchy in the name of orderliness and structure, overdoing this attitude results in a cowed populace, a people who do not argue with what they are told, an obedient community that is easily led astray when its leaders aren’t genuinely “keeping watch” and don’t need to “give an account” to anybody.

Problem 5

Recently, I ran across a fifth-grade writing test that, in ostensibly teaching students how to use the possessive apostrophe, was actually inculcating much, much more:

Problem 5: The commands of government officials must be obeyed by all,

with the “correct” answer being,

The government’s commands must be obeyed by all.

Other sentences instruct that the president “makes sure the laws of the country are fair,” and, “The wants of an individual are less important than the well-being of the nation.”

Another hand-out given to children taught,

“Rights are special privileges that the government gives you,”

which looks very different from the sentence in the Declaration of Independence, the one affirming that, “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” but this wasn’t mentioned in the hand-out.

Conditioned to Submit

It’s not socially aberrant or evidence of anarchist intentions to be very, very uncomfortable with the sentiments in Problem 5 — before or after the apostrophe — but alarmingly, many Christians would have no issues with it, because they are so conditioned to the concept that obedience, submission, and deference to authority are the primary obligations of a believer.

And this is why it’s so important to question, analyze, and, when necessary, resist authority — within the church — because it’s an excellent training ground in creating a citizenry that will obey, just as well, outside of the church.

If you love me, you will obey what I command,” Jesus tells his disciples in John 14: 15, and it’s interesting to note that in three Gospels, one of the things He commands is a variation on Luke 22: 25-26:

Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 

“‘But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (See also Matthew 20: 25-28 and Mark 10: 42-45).

Another thing Jesus commands, more than once in the Gospels, is, “watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive man.'” (Matthew 24: 4-5; see also Mark 13: 5-6; Luke 21: 8)

One of the best ways these deceivers can strengthen their message is by convincing believers that they are required to listen to, and obey it.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I read a great line in a book once that said, “I have enough confidence in my own intellectual ability to not hand it over to another.”

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Must We Obey Church Authorities?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Obedience, subservience to authority, submission, docility, accountability — these concepts are so prominent, and so interwoven within many Christian circles, that you’d think they were the foundation upon which Christ taught.

The Priest's Secret drawing by Steve Henerson

Whom do we obey, and worship? It’s a question all humans must find an adequate answer to, but for the Christian, the answer is, God alone. The Priest’s Secret, drawing by Steve Henderson.

In other words, a good Christian does what he or she is told.

“Jesus was passive,” someone told me the other day, “and He taught His followers to be the same.” My speaker was expressing frustration with contemporary Christians, and Christianity, and while I agree with his assessment that followers are actively taught to be passive, I disagree that it is Christ who gives them this message.

Men say this, and they’ve been saying it for a long time.

Agnes Grey is a novel by Anne Bronte, the youngest of the three Bronte sisters (think Emily, and Wuthering Heights; and Charlotte, with Jane Eyre), that follows a young woman as she serves as governess to a series of horrendously atrocious children. Like her sisters, Anne made observations about the religious — Christian — environment of her day, and this passage describes her character Agnes’s assessment of the local rector, or pastor:

“His favourite subjects were church discipline, rites and ceremonies, apostolic succession, the duty of reverence and obedience to the clergy, the atrocious criminality of dissent, the absolute necessity of observing all the forms of godliness, the reprehensible presumption of individuals who attempted to think for themselves in matters connected with religion, or to be guided by their own interpretations of Scripture . . . supporting his maxims and exhortations throughout with quotations from the Fathers: with whom he appeared to be far better acquainted than with the Apostles and Evangelists, and whose importance he seemed to consider at least equal to theirs.”

Contemporary Thought

Published in 1847, this paragraph — so contemporaneous that it’s astonishing — is a sober awakening that the pressure to conform, obey, comply, acquiesce, and passively accept what we are told has been around a long time, and the message of 167 years ago is still being preached today, in Jesus’s name.

A friend sent me an article about Christine Weick, an outspoken, seemingly ordinary Christian, who crashed an ecumenical-fest at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which was sponsoring a joint Islamic call to prayer in the Protestant, Episcopalian church. According to the article, leadership determined that sending prayers up to Allah from a Christian church would show the world that two different religions could “approach the same God” as one body of believers.

Making her way through multiple levels of armed security (how interesting — civil police in a religious setting; it reminds me of Christ before Pilate), Weick stood in front long enough to make this speech:

“Jesus Christ died on that cross. He is the reason we are to worship only Him. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior . . . We have built . . .  allowed you your mosques in this country. Why don’t you worship in your mosques and leave our churches alone?”

Where Is the Diversity?

It’s a good question: why are we — no, not we, but leaders in establishment churches — so adamant about blurring significant discrepancies in our belief systems and pretending that they don’t exist, as opposed to truly allowing us to  “celebrate our differences”? As I mentioned to a reader recently, demanding to know whether or not I would vote to protect “homosexual rights,”  we don’t have to agree with one another to get along, and indeed, forcing one person to acquiesce to the beliefs of another, discounts and disparages the conscience of the first.

The New Hat inspirational original oil painting of woman in 1940s nostalgia setting by victorian dresser by Steve Henderson

Ordinary people, preparing for the day, ready to walk out in the public arena and speak up for themselves. The New Hat, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Most sensible — ordinary — people know enough to cheerfully agree to disagree, focusing upon what we do share in common, but self-appointed world religious leadership, in its push for “ecumenical unity,” chooses to ignore commonsense, with the plausibly obvious result that the people, the masses, the sheep, the laity, the non-leadership, will be upset, resulting in less unity, not more. Leadership is not too stupid to realize this; the question is — are we too stupid to understand that we are being played?

Weick’s civil disobedience, lauded in the likes of Martin Luther King, is not so honored when it comes from the mouth of an ordinary person, speaking up and out, but this is what Christians — through Christ — are commanded to do:

“Teacher,” some Pharisees in a crowd once said to Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples!”

“‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'” (Luke 19:39-40)

Speak Up and Out

Whether or not Weick was correct to crash a private party (it was “invitation only” — how inclusive), she spoke up, and this is something that belief in Christ does not forbid us to do — in the general public, at the church annual meeting, to the pastor directly. Indeed, the interesting thing about speaking up is that, generally, what we say is far more innocuous than the punishment received for saying it.

Jesus experienced this when he responded to the high priest questioning Him about his disciples and his teaching in John 18:19-21:

“‘I have spoken openly to the world,’ Jesus replied. ‘I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

In response to this speech, “one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’ he demanded.”

I’ve always thought — “How ironic. You just slapped God.”

But such is the arrogance of mankind, that it makes its decrees, and demands that all follow. Men of power are not below twisting and distorting Scripture to their own ends, putting themselves in God’s place and demanding the submission we owe to Him. It is up to each individual Christian to read Scripture, knowing it well enough to identify when it is being misused, and to determine whether or not a man — a pastor, a priest, a vicar, a rector, a Pope, an elder — ever has the right to say, “Obey me!”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where my constant message to fellow Christians is this: Read the Bible for yourself. Pray for wisdom. Trust that God can, and does, teach His children the truth.

Posts complementing this one are

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