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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Watered Down, Weak Tea, Tepid Beer, Corked Wine Christianity

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked.” Luke 3:10

If you’re a Christian, and you’ve got a question about the Bible, your place in the world, or what our Father wants you to do with your life, be assured that, no further than your local church, is a kicky little book to instruct you, and a small group to walk you through the process.

Tea by the Sea inspirational original oil painting of teapot still life with shells and clear glass vase by Steve Henderson

Good tea is strong, brisk, and invigorating. So is intelligent study of truth, God’s world, and Scripture. Tea by the Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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An added bonus is a workbook (part of the $45 class fee) to prod you by asking elementary, simplistic questions that are supposed to get you to think, and “integrate spiritual reality into daily living” —

  • “What do you think God’s purpose is in your life?”
  • “When Jesus says, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ what does he mean by ‘neighbor’? (Note to leader: begin the discussion by listing out three types of neighbors: our immediate neighbor, the person on the next block, and the stranger we run into in the grocery store.)

What’s so sad is that contemporary Christians, many of whom are intelligent enough to balance their checkbook, take the car in for a regularly scheduled maintenance, and figure out why the toilet is leaking, are flummoxed when it comes to their spiritual lives. Reading and interpreting the Bible for themselves — even though the book is translated into their first spoken language — is determined to be beyond their mental capacity, much to the benefit of assorted speakers, writers, and teachers, who make a generous living by posting an innocuous title at the head of their book chapters (Your Community of LOVE), engaging in warm pastoral talk incorporating a guided teaching story about a “real” member of the church community, and winding the whole thing down with a series of  “thoughtful questions,” designed to encourage “spirited (instructor -led) discussion.”

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Religions Sells, Well

When hundreds of Christians, in thousands of churches, buy this book (and the accompanying DVD) and use it, the author and publisher do well. It’s a business, you know.

This is not to say that reading books about spirituality and the Bible isn’t good, but it is to encourage Christians to not read these books at the expense of reading the Bible for themselves. We should try that first, on a regular basis, and see how good we get at understanding, interpreting, and analyzing. The book we next pick up, then, may go far beyond asking us questions like,

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of little girl and mother reading on ocean beach by Steve Henderson, licensed home wall art decor at Great Big Canvas, Icanvas, framed canvas art, art.com, amazon.com, and allposters.com

Our reading tastes change, and mature, with age and wisdom. So also should our reading tastes improve as we mature in our Christianity. Seaside Story, original painting, sold; wall art home decor at AllPosters, Amazon, Great Big Canvas, and other licensed retailers.

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“Is Jesus our friend or our brother?” and instead delve into biblical history, lexicography, and assorted ways that different scholars and thinkers, through the years, have looked at a same verse or passage. There is nothing stopping each individual Christian, whom the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:9 describes as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,” from taking those words seriously and approaching Scripture as intelligent, Spirit-led, scholars.

For example, let’s start with Luke 3, in which John the Baptist is baptizing and teaching and preparing a way in the desert, and the people asked — much as they do now — “What should we do then?”

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Nowadays, the answer is searched for in that aforementioned small group, with the necessary Biblical Scripture Materials — and the Christian Teaching Celebrity of the Day answers, over 12 chapters, the questions, “What Is My Ministry, Lord?” or, “What Are My Gifts? (an integrated look at God’s work in our lives today).

Direct Speech

John was more direct:

“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

Share what you have with those who have less.

To the tax collectors, John said, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.”

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Translated to today’s terms, this could be a message to any major CEO interested in being a better person — “Pay your employees decently and treat them with respect. Don’t overcompensate yourself and upper management at the expense of the people laboring under you.”

To the soldiers:

“Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely — be content with your pay.”

Today: “Police officers: put the taser away and stop looking at innocent civilians as if they were the enemy.”

No, these are not word for word interpretations in 21st century terms, but the concepts John addresses are basic enough to extrapolate:

Whatever your job is, don’t use it to abuse people. Don’t hoard. Stop doing things that you know are wrong so that you can make a better material life for yourself. In other words, it’s back to loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves, the two commandments that Jesus, in Matthew 22:40, says everything in the law and prophets hangs upon.

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Simple, Not Simplistic

It’s simple, yet profound, and when we read Scripture with this in mind, we filter Jesus’s teaching through, well, Jesus’s teaching. We don’t need a workbook to open our minds to this, and once we get over the notion that there is one incontrovertibly “right” way to interpret every verse of the Bible, we will be free, like honest scholars are, to ask questions:

Who was John, really? Why did Jesus say, several chapters later, in 7:28,

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he”?

This is a far more pertinent question than,

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“What is my community? And how does Jesus want me to ‘share my gifts’ in it?” It is also one that we cannot answer in one or two sentences to fit upon the line provided. It’s something to think upon, meditate over, ponder — all something that scholars do.

And while it is very true that we all start out as babes, and cannot be scholars when we cannot yet crawl, it is also true that for too many of us,

“Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12)

Much of what we depend upon, years into our Christian lives, isn’t even milk so much as it is man-made formula. Let’s toss the bottle, pick up the fork, and grab some meat.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you to not to feel bad when, in your small group spiritual reading session, you get bored with the chosen book. I’ve seen these things in bookstores, and I can’t get past a page or two.

Posts complementing this one are

Reading the Bible without Supervision

Reading the Bible Makes Me Fall Asleep

Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books

 

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Isn’t the “Good News” Supposed to Be Good?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.” (2 Timothy 4:13)

A central aspect of the gospel — which means “good news” — is that the news, indeed, should be good. Believing in and following Christ is meant to be a positive thing, with positive, or good, things associated with it.

Brimming Over inspirational original oil painting of woman on beach with basket of fabric laughing by Steve Henderson licensed home decor wall art at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, Great Big Canvas, and Framed Canvas Art

Do Christians ever laugh? Sometimes, one wonders, and one wonders just what it is about the message of Christ, as taught, that is so good and attractive. Brimming Over, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed wall art decor at Framed Canvas Art, Great Big Canvas, Art. com, AllPosters, and Amazon.

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If this is not so, then why bother?

As a former Catholic who became a Protestant before finally settling upon just plain Christianity, I am well acquainted with the Evangelical answer to this question:

“Believe in Jesus so you can go to heaven after you die. Otherwise you’ll burn in hell!”

but can’t help but think that this way of looking at the good news is more threatening than encouraging. Apparently, the primary purpose to believe in God’s Son is so that we don’t suffer eternally for not doing so. With this way of looking at things, it’s no surprise that there’s not much to do down here but wait until we die when the party finally starts, and the best a Christian can expect from our years on earth is patient endurance. At least we’ve got our ticket to paradise. If others don’t, and they don’t believe our central message, then that’s their problem.

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Gosh. I’ll sure miss Aunt Eleanor and Uncle Timothy throughout eternity.

Other sects of Christianity, many of whom include the You’ll-Burn-In-Hell messengers, add on the requirement that people possess a mighty faith before God will do anything decent in their lives. Those who have this faith, adherents propound, will enjoy material blessings as evidence of, and reward for, their righteousness, and those who don’t — well, even though they may be Christian because they’ve recited the right words, they’re obviously not in good standing with God, and He is displeased with them.

What Is the Good News?

None of this sounds particularly encouraging, hopeful, joyous, or good, and when John the Baptist, languishing in prison and feeling beaten, tired, and dispirited, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, in Matthew 11:3,

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“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus did not answer,

“I’m It, and I’m telling everyone to believe in me or die,”

but rather,

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

Good, positive things were happening in the lives of people whose lives were painful, sad, difficult, lonely, and wretched. Jesus did not preach doctrine but reached out in love, meeting people in their day to day existence and effecting real, tangible change.

Beachside Diversions inspirational original oil painting of little girl at ocean with loving adult woman adjusting hat by Steve Henderson licensed home decor wall art at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, great big canvas and framed canvas art

God is love, but what does love do? It protects, embraces, enfolds, and cherishes. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed home decor wall art at AllPosters, Amazon, Art. com, Framed Canvas Art and Great Big Canvas.

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It would be nice, 2,000 years later, if we who live today saw instantaneous miraculous change the way that many did then, just by touching the robe of our Eldest Brother, but this is not our general norm. Most of us cannot, as a few loud voices insist that we should be able to, do miracles, and it is not so much the sign of our lack of faith as it is the way things are. We are those blessed, as Jesus told Thomas, who have not seen and yet still believe.

The promises upon which we operate are that God our Father loves us unconditionally, and that He walks with us through and in our lives, even when things don’t look amazing and powerful and miraculous and incredibly cool. We remain very real humans, with very real human needs — we must eat on a regular basis, we use the bathroom, we get cold, as Paul did in the head of this essay when, during his second and presumably last imprisonment, he asked Timothy to visit him and bring a garment to keep him warm.

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We Need a Loving Father

And, as humans, we get discouraged and sad — yes, even though Christ tells us not to be anxious in Matthew 6:34, and Paul himself, in Philippians, repeated the encouragement (not an order, not a command for which we will be punished if we “disobey”) in Philippians 4:6, we have our moments, and days, of feeling abandoned by our Father, alone in our pain, cold because we do not have a cloak.

It is during these times, more than any other, that we need the good news, and this news is not that we deserve to be eternally damned and/or that we ought to be materially blessed, but that Jesus’s Father, who delights in His Son, is our Father as well, and He delights in us the same way. He does not abandon us to our fate, He does not sit reading in another room while we battle cancer, or face bankruptcy, or get over a wrenching, painful breakup with the person we thought we would spend the rest of our lives with.

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And neither does He — and this is important — punish us or walk away from us because we are human, and not surprisingly tend to act like it. We are human  when, like Paul, we shiver in a damp place because we do not have a jacket, and we are just as human when, like Paul, we are undergoing stressful circumstances and lapse into discouragement:

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” (2 Timothy 4:9-10)

and

“At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” (4:16)

These are not ringing words of joy but wrenching admissions of pain, complemented by Paul’s faith that he is not abandoned, although he feels like it, and, without a cloak, he is cold.

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It is at these moments that God’s embrace is tightest, and it at moments like this that we truly need good news:

God, our Father, loves us unconditionally.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to not settle for a weak-tea substitute when it comes to our relationship with God, our Father, and Jesus, our Eldest Brother. He came that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). Want that. Seek that.

Posts complementing this one are

Child of God, You Are Much Beloved

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

Lessons from a Demented Cat: God’s Love

 

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Why Do Some Christians Make So Much MONEY?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” (Luke 8:38-39)

Within polite Christian religious circles, we share coffee and doughnuts in the back of the sanctuary with a herd of massive, fetid-smelling white elephants suffering from recurrent diarrhea.

Photo of 100 dollar bills money draped over Bible verses by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Religion sells. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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There are so many issues we’re taught to not touch, poke, or acknowledge the existence of, that it’s no wonder our conversation becomes shallow and mundane. Asking questions, or worse yet, expressing an opinion based upon sensible observation, is a pretty sure way to get labeled “judgmental,” “difficult,” or “unable to understand the complexity of things.”

So it was with a smile that I read a note from a newspaper editor I highly respect, who minced no words:

“If religion doesn’t sell, how does one account for the exorbitant lifestyles some televangelists have awarded themselves?”

Good question, one that we don’t ask loudly or often enough, even those who cringe upon seeing, on television, a histrionic and overwrought preacher pounding the pulpit and saying,

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“God needs YOU to send money to this ministry so that we can REACH people for JESUS!”

(Of course, they don’t all act like that; some of them are quite poised and elegant, gazing deep into their viewers’ eyes and warmly embracing us with their voice. Sometimes, they promise us a spiritual — and economic — gain upon our investment; other times, they express their joy at how many people will be helped by whatever pittance we can send, but eventually, their message wends around to the same thing: we, the viewers, have been called to “join them” in their vital ministry of spreading Christ’s gospel to the world, with the obvious implication that, if we don’t, millions of people will die in their sins and head to an eternity of damnation and fiery torment, and it will be our fault.)

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Hordes of Followers Send Millions of Dollars

And therein is, pretty much, the answer to the newspaper editor’s question:

Some people, who call themselves Christians, live an exorbitant lifestyle because hordes of other people, who are so unsure of their Christianity that they are easily manipulated into being told what to do, send them money.

Or more baldly: some people are very rich because people send them money.

“It’s not that simple,” tepid, timorous voices insist, even those displeased by sales tactics employed by assorted TV, Celebrity, and Political Christian speakers, preachers, and writers.

“I don’t necessarily like what Charisma-Christian is doing,” they add, “but he IS getting Christ’s name out there.” (This is the same line uttered every time the movie media disgorges yet another vapid flick loosely incorporating a Biblical concept around a comic book plot.)

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Morning Tea, inspirational original oil painting of ceramic tea pot on dining room table by Steve Henderson

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying, or owning, nice things, but one can cross a questionable line regarding just how many and how much of these nice things one expects to have — and who will pay for them. Morning Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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Quite frankly, getting Christ’s name out there, if that’s all we’re worried about, is remarkably easy, and anyone can walk into a room — whether or not there’s a camera focused on our face — and say, “JESUS loves you! JESUS wants to have a relationship with you!”

Human Contact Matters

Given that the average Celebrity Christian’s message doesn’t extend much beyond that, all of us could save our money by NOT writing people a check to announce this on television, and just blurt out words randomly on the street. It will have about as much effect.

Oh, I know — people have been down and out and alone and lonely and they were brought out of it by seeing a face on the screen that told them there was hope, and I am glad that this happened (just perhaps not quite as often as we are led to believe). But —  if the thousands of Christians who sent checks to this face had taken the money, instead, and invited another person — from a random stranger to a family member — to eat and expressed some interest in their well being and lives, a similar result could have been effected on a much larger, and more personal, scale.

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We are too prone, as Christians, to solve our problems of interacting with “the world” by writing somebody else a check to do it for us.

Tormented and Alone

The verse at the head of this essay closes the story about a demon-possessed man, one whose problems were so prodigious that he lived a tormented life away from human contact, assailed by a legion of malignant spirits. If there had been a TV, let the Celebrity preachers declare, this would have been his only friend.

But he found a better friend than that: our Eldest Brother, who has commissioned us, His followers, to continue His earthly ministry of loving and caring for our fellow human beings. So grateful was the man to Christ for his deliverance, that He wanted nothing more than to leave everything and follow Him.

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But Jesus had a job for Him, quite similar to the one He has for us:

“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”

This wretched piece of humanity, rejected by all humanity, was restored to sanity and dignity, and as a son of our good and loving Father, he was given a message of joy and hope to take to others. There was nothing special about this man, nothing charismatic or dynamic or excellent or commanding, much as there is nothing charismatic or dynamic or excellent or commanding about most of us.

But that isn’t the point: Christ’s message isn’t something so difficult that only a few, high-profile, prominent, and well-paid luminaries can get it out there: we are ALL called to be cities on the hill, whose light is not to be hidden, and the $20 a preaching magnate is calling us to send so that he can spread God’s gospel is far better spent taking a neglected or hurting child out to the store and buying him or her a pair of pants that fits.

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One on one, that’s how Jesus met people. He was remarkably effective.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I remind all my brothers and sisters in Christ that money is a gift God gives us, one of  many, and like all His gifts, it is meant to be used wisely and well.

Posts complementing this one are

Where Does All the Tithe Money Go?

Put Your Money Where Your Beliefs Are

Just How Equal Are We in Our Society?

 

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Is America Doomed?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Live a life worthy of the Lord and . . . please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power.” (Colossians 1:11)

It’s difficult to take a breath or two without being assailed by some great politically religious name, purporting to speak for God and the rest of us, who announces that America — because of our extreme state of sinfulness — is about to undergo the wrath of God.

Homeland 1 inspirational original oil painting of rural country meadow and field by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor prints at framed canvas art, icanvas, great big canvas, amazon.com, art.com, and allposters.com

The people of a nation are not necessarily a reflection of the government that rules that nation. Homeland 1, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed wall art decor prints at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, and Great Big Canvas.

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This idea only floats, via the warm breath of the speaker, because American Christians continue to operate under the misconception that we started out as a “Christian Nation.” And we embrace this misconception because our early politicians, many of whom were Deists, played the same game that their 21st century counterparts do now: they used the words “God,” and “Providence,” and “Jesus” in all the right places.

In the same way that today’s policies — abortion, high taxation, legalization of usury, military aggression, infringement upon personal rights — look more man-made (or Roman-based, like our political framework), than Christian, so also did earlier policies — legalized slavery, the attack upon Native American culture, more military aggression, robber barons of the 19th century who segued into the next and the next — not represent the tenets of Christianity.

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Nor did they represent, incidentally, the beliefs and convictions of many of the nation’s people — most of whom had no say in the political decisions made by their leaders. So it is today, and the breakdown of society that the self-imposed speakers for Christianity lament, is not necessarily something that can be brought to the back door porch of the ordinary person. Although that’s where they’re plopping it.

A Nation of Righteous Millionaires

Yes, we all sin. The fundamentalist Baptist voice, in all its denominational forms, is good about reminding us of that. This is a nice place to stop for a minute: if we always sin, and we’ve always been sinners, so were we in the late 18th century when this nation was founded. We’re a nation of sinners now, and we were a nation of sinners then, so let’s cease wasting time and energy, yearning for halcyon days that never existed and thinking that, by dressing like Ma Wilder of the mid 19th century, we emulate a better time and a better place — as well as curry God’s favor.

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Queen Annes Lace inspirational original oil painting of woman in white lace shawl in meadow of flowers by Steve Henderson licensed wall art home decor prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon.com, AllPosters.com, and Art.com

It’s worth pondering: how many wealthy and powerful people consider humility a quality that they want associated with their name? Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed wall art home decor prints at Great Big Canvas, AllPosters, Art. com, Amazon, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

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(The economic prosperity that we point to as evidence of our righteousness before God isn’t a particularly convincing argument: how many millionaires and billionaires are prominently humble about their belief in God? And not just with words, but with action — their money doing truly good things, and their lives marked by grace, mercy, love, humility, and an acute sense of their ordinary-ness as human beings?)

Christianity, like Jesus, looks different from what the world thinks it should, and success as Christ’s disciple isn’t necessarily marked by outrageous economic gain, especially when that economic gain is hoarded. We really need to get past the litmus test that lots of money is a sign of God’s favor, and we also might stop equating America, the modern country, with Israel, the ancient nation of the Old Testament.

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We are not a Christian nation, but we are — like many of the kingdoms around the world — a nation with Christians in it. And herein is advice for us, from Colossians 1:11 (quoted at the head of this essay):

Each of us, individually, is to live a life worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit with our good works, growing in knowledge of our Father who loves us, and who loves all the children He has created, so intricately, one by one.

Seasoning with Light

We have been called by our Eldest Brother to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13), a small seasoning that has a powerful impact — with both its presence or absence — and it doesn’t take much to make a difference.

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And salt is not unpleasant: it is not dark, and bitter, sour, or acerbic, yet frequently, we Christians fall so easily into the trap set for us by writers and speakers who intone all the evil things that will happen if a certain group gets its way. The result is that we, in fear and panic, express malignity concealed behind what we call righteous anger: toward homosexuals, toward Muslims, toward entire nations; toward people who swear or wear tight clothing or maintain prominently atheist websites and say, “I don’t believe in God.”

This is bad fruit.

Even our prayers, which our outwardly pious spokespersons invoke us to make, sound in opposition to Christ’s words that we forgive, as our heavenly Father forgave us:

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“Stop them, God! These people are perverted and evil, and they’re causing this good nation to fall. Let your wrath fall upon these people, and not us!”

Jesus was apolitical, His confounding message being that we seek His Father and, in finding Him, then be a light to others so that they, too, can find our Father’s love. And as Paul’s transcendent description in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 tells us, love is patient and kind, and most interestingly, “it is not easily angered.”

Yes, there are problems. Yes, sin abounds (why does this surprise us?).

But our response has never been to hate, to accuse, to lump entire groups of individuals into one despicable mass, and to look for ultimate, utopian answers through politics as opposed to, one by one, living a life worthy of the Lord, wherever that takes us.

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Speak up. That’s fine.

Stand up for what’s right. We are called to do so.

But do not hate.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you, if you find yourself overwhelmed by the news of the day, to turn off the TV and throw away the latest letter from the organization demanding money, so that they can fix the world in Jesus’s name. YOU do something. Don’t know what? Ask God, and He will answer.

Posts complementing this one are

“Foreigners” Are God’s Children, Too

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Not a Leader? Good! God Can Talk to You

What Richard Dawkins Teaches Us about God

 

 

Previous Posts

Watered Down, Weak Tea, Tepid Beer, Corked Wine Christianity
"'What should we do then?' the crowd asked." Luke 3:10 If you're a Christian, and you've got a question about the Bible, your place in the world, or what our Father wants you to do with your life, be assured that, no further than your local ...

posted 11:14:46am May. 20, 2015 | read full post »

Isn’t the “Good News” Supposed to Be Good?
"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments." (2 Timothy 4:13) A central aspect of the gospel -- which means "good news" -- is that the news, indeed, should be good. Believing ...

posted 1:09:17pm May. 15, 2015 | read full post »

Why Do Some Christians Make So Much MONEY?
"Jesus sent him away, saying, 'Return home and tell how much God has done for you.' So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him." (Luke 8:38-39) Within polite Christian religious circles, we share coffee and ...

posted 12:15:10pm May. 13, 2015 | read full post »

Is America Doomed?
"Live a life worthy of the Lord and . . . please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power." (Colossians 1:11) It's difficult to take a breath or two without being ...

posted 10:13:52am May. 08, 2015 | read full post »

God Gave You Your Birthday. Celebrate It!
"You are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you." (Isaiah 43:4) We are celebrating a spate of birthdays in our household these days, events that don't necessarily stop with cake. The person of honor is free from all household ...

posted 3:53:43pm May. 06, 2015 | read full post »

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