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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Apathy Is Worse Than Anger

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” Revelation 3:15

The Biblical book of Revelation, despite assurances from those who make movies about it, is a complicated book, and there is no certainty as to what the End Times will look like, when they will happen, or whether or not airplanes will suddenly lose their pilots.

Moonlit Night on the Coppei inspirational original oil painting of cobalt blue trees within a snow covered forest by Steve Henderson

It is better to be as cold as cold, or hotter than hot, then tepidly warm, like stale beer. Moonlit Night on the Coppei, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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We spend so much time obsessing about what the book tells us about the future — or more accurately, what self-imposed prophetic interpreters tell us that it tells us about the future —  that we miss its lessons for present day. Chapters 2 and 3, which address seven different churches and the unique aspects of each, are well worth reading and contemplating.

Every time I do, I find a bit of myself in each of the churches — Yes! like the church in Thyatira, I am now doing more than I did at first. And yes, like the Church in Philadelphia, I have little strength, but have not denied His name (no boasting on that latter aspect; what strength I have, comes from Him).

There is a little bit of all of us — individuals and church community — in each of the seven churches, and the words of the angels to these churches give us perspective on the past and present, in addition to the future — both as individuals and as a people.

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Last but not least on the list is that of Laodicea, which is neither cold nor hot, but suffering from the attitude of, “’I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ to which the angel’s response is,

“But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (3:17)

It’s Easy to Be Apathetic

Quite frankly, none of us enjoy enduring or actively seek out challenging, difficult, wrenching, or painful circumstances, and a happy state of being is generally thought to be one in which we have all we need, preferably with that acquired wealth. (If this were not a prevalent problem in our outlook, prosperity preachers would not be so literally, and wildly, successful.)

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And while there is nothing wrong with having enough, plus a little more, when we are in this state is when we are in most danger of becoming Laodiceans, so focused upon the importance of things and issues which, ultimately, take up our time and attention, but do not engage our heart. Because we don’t see our need for God — when the twice monthly paycheck is being regularly deposited electronically and our needs are thereby being effortlessly met — we can fall away from seeking Him, thinking about Him, talking about Him, desiring Him, literally living for Him.

Deer Above Dixie inspirational original watercolor of wild does eating in meadow by Steve Henderson

Wild animals do not have bank accounts, 401Ks, pensions, or stock options. They rely upon the goodness and mercy of their Creator, something He encourages His human children to do as well. Deer Above Dixie, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold.

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In other words, we are in danger of becoming apathetic.

“Complaint against God is far nearer to God than indifference about Him.”

This quote is from George MacDonald, a 19th century Scottish Christian thinker who is known for the many novels he wrote, and more importantly for our purposes, his deeply thought out theology, with a central message concerning the unconditional love of God our Father. (C.S. Lewis, in his book George MacDonald, says, “Few of his novels are good and none is very good.” But though he was a poor novelist, he was a supreme preacher, Lewis continues, with “some of his best things . . . thus hidden in his dullest books.”)

And this quote is one of those best things: an acknowledgement that we humans do not always sing the praises of our God, extolling His goodness in a song worthy to be led by a slick professional worship team upon the platform. Sometimes, we gripe — Jeremiah of the Biblical book by his name is frequently called the complaining or weeping prophet, for passages like 20:7-8:

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“O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me.

“Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the world of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long.”

And while it’s quite easy to point a finger at the man and judge from a distance, he was thrown into a cistern and left to die. Jeremiah’s life was not an easy one, and like any human being (the prophets were human, after all), he complained. God did not turn His back on Him and walk away — He never does — and yet, when we are hurt and anxious and angry and we mention this to others, we are frequently told that this is what will happen to us, because God is so disgusted by our anger.

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Not so. Anger, frustration, hurt, despair, confusion, fear — these are strong feelings, they are cold, or hot, not lukewarm, and God is not disgusted by feelings. What He does not want to see in us, and what He will rebuke and discipline (Rev. 3:19), is indifference, apathy, a bored aloofness that neither loves nor hates God, but is unresponsive to His existence. On an operating table, this would be described as a dead body.

But our God is one who raises the dead, and that is what He can, and will, do for us when we lapse into somnambulant lethargy. We are beings created in His own image, a God of feeling and movement and emotion.

That is what He would have us be as well.

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I strongly urge you to find MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons (free on Kindle) and read them.

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How Do You Spend Your Sundays?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

I know a number of people who work on Sundays. One of them, a waitress, described a recent interaction with a diner, a church-goer who was ordering lunch after a morning round of worship service and Sunday School:

Phonograph Days inspirational original oil painting of 1940s nostalgic Victorian era woman in hat listening to music by Steve Henderson

We sleep, we read, we lie in the hammock and think, we listen to music — we rest. The Sabbath, ultimately, is a gift God gave us to rest. Phonograph Days, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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“God doesn’t want us to work on Sundays,” he reproached. “What are you doing, on the job today?”

Because she’s a working girl who needs to keep that job, she didn’t answer,

“Um, taking your order. You know, if people like you didn’t frequent restaurants on Sunday, maybe some of them would close for lack of business. And even if they didn’t, aren’t you supporting this system?”

Instead, she dealt with the various substitutions he and his party demanded from the menu, refilled their coffee without chafing at their imperious summoning to do so, and cleaned up afterwards, pocketing a $2 tip compositely left by 6 people.

In one way — but one in which he does not realize — the judgmental diner is right: God does want us to keep the Sabbath day, a topic our good and gracious Father, who does not consider any of His children to be nameless servants, addresses beyond the 10 commandments.

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It Is a “Delight”

In Isaiah 58:13-14, God says,

“If you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord.”

It is a day meant to be a “delight,” something I never associated with the mad rush to get to church on time, back in the days we did. It is, literally, a gift from God to mankind, a golden opportunity to rest from the labors of the week, and on it, one is,

Brimming Over inspirational original oil painting of woman with basket of cloth on ocean beach laughing by Steve Henderson licensed wall art decor prints at Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, AllPosters.com, Art.com, and Amazon.com

When we hear the word, “Sabbath,” is our first reaction one of freedom and joy, or one of condemnation and judgment? Brimming Over, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Framed Canvas Art, Vision Art Galleries and Great Big Canvas.

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“not (to) do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (Exodus 20:8)

The long-term effect of this gift given to a small tribe of insignificant people wandering around the desert is a 5-6 day workweek in many parts of the world, with the understanding that you can’t work the ox, or the maidservant, or the waitress, 7 days straight without a rest. Given their own way (and increasingly, they are), this is what people who want to make money do: they work their workers as hard as they legally can under the belief that there are plenty more in the pool to take the job if one of the minions drops out.

Until a generation ago, many businesses in many countries closed on Sunday, and while liberated and liberalized sorts (who have well-paying jobs structured around a 9 – 5 Monday through Friday workweek) decry this as narrow and confining and infringing upon the rights of others who want that extra day to seamlessly accumulate profit without interruption, those working people who did get the full day off, along with the rest of their family members, enjoyed that day off and used it for the purpose that the Gift Giver meant it to be used: they rested. (Genesis 2:2)

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(If they slept in and chose not to go to church they were excoriated within the sanctuary walls, but resting, not attending church, is the import of the command.)

More Money for Fewer People

In today’s frenetic economy of making a lot of money for a little contingent of people, Sunday is no longer a societally supported day of rest for the manservant, or the maidservant, or the domestic ox, or the lower-level employee, although it is still a day of golf for their masters, and this was never the intent of the command.

Predictably, our judgmental diner would assert that the waitress, if she truly loves God, should demand the day off and trust the Lord for the outcome of her effrontery, but if our diner read the Bible while he was sitting in church he would note that it is the master’s (leader’s, employer’s, ruler’s) obligation to ensure that those under him get that day, and if they don’t, it is not servants, and employees, who are at fault.

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“But an entire nation can’t shut down on Sunday!”

Oddly, God never considered that a problem when He set forth the command, and logically, He no doubt takes into account emergency rooms and fire stations, with the idea that those who have to work, will be appropriately compensated, and scheduling will be such that they, too, will receive a Sabbath. The spirit of the command is that we treat people with dignity, regardless of their pay grade, and all humans deserve time to rest, reflect, and relax — preferably away from those who have their eye on them during the rest of the week.

As Christians, we can lead the way in celebrating the day in its spirit as opposed to its legalistic jurisprudence and be kind, as opposed to unctuously pious, when we are privileged enough to shop, or dine out, or stay at a hotel, on Sunday. The people serving us — whether or not they believe the way we do — deserve rest from their labor, and the only thing we really know about the waitress serving us Sunday afternoon is that she is on her feet, and we are not.

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Leave her a tip — a good one. Consider it part of our tithes.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I try to approach belief in God as a lifestyle that embraces love, mercy, and grace.

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

posted by Carolyn Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different Bible Translations

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

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

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Checking Other Sources

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scheming

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

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

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

Prosperity Preaching

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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Christian Sheep: We Can Learn from Goats

posted by Carolyn Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What, Really, Is an Expert?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading, Research, and Hands-on Experience

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

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

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

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We Do Have a Teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You

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

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Previous Posts

Apathy Is Worse Than Anger
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” Revelation 3:15 The Biblical book of Revelation, despite assurances from those who make movies about it, is a complicated book, and there is ...

posted 7:39:59am May. 01, 2015 | read full post »

How Do You Spend Your Sundays?
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) I know a number of people who work on Sundays. One of them, a waitress, described a recent interaction with a diner, a church-goer who was ordering ...

posted 8:30:13am Apr. 29, 2015 | read full post »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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