Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

When Our Dreams Never Come True

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Dreams are living, vibrant things, like flowers, and trees, that have a season and a time, and they’re always changing. But they’re alive. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

From the time we are schoolchildren, we are regularly assured,

“You can be anything you want to be. Just dream it, and it will come true.”

Do an Internet search on “following your dreams” and you’ll come up with everything from Dream Believe Achieve (or, Dream Believe Receive for the Christian version) to You Can Do It! Just Believe! (Christian version: God Will Do It! Just Believe!)

We all have dreams, desires, hopes, and aspirations — part of being made in the image of God is that we desire to create, just like our Father. The significant difference between us and Him is that while He creates out of nothing, we create under His guidance, teaching, and direction:

“To a man belong the plans of the heart,” Proverbs 16: 1 tells us, “but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue,” and in 16: 9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

God Is Involved in Our Dreams

These verses take us beyond inane reassurances that Belief alone, and enough of it, will lead us to our goal, because even as schoolchildren we say to ourselves,

“I want to do this impossible thing, but how?”

Only believe! just doesn’t cut it, although if you watch too much TV and read too many You Can Do It! books, you will consistently belabor under the impression that things aren’t working out because of you, somehow.

“What, specifically, am I supposed to believe in?” is a valid question. “In me? In some power within me? In my influence with God? If it’s God I believe in, then aren’t I supposed to trust that He knows best what to do with my life, including my dreams?”

God Really Isn’t Irritable

On the other end of the spectrum, if the god you serve is the impatient, destructive, irritated being that too many Christians mistake for God, you don’t even bother having dreams, because your substitute has his own plan, and he’ll squeeze you into it, no matter how painful it is to you.

“God wants you out of your comfort zone!” is the sing-song response by some shallow creature stomping on your pearls — your aching, longing dream — which isn’t coming true.

Let’s shoot that sentence and bury it once and for all, okay?

Following our dreams is a dance that involves letting God lead, because,

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37: 23-24)

A Valid Question

So now the valid question is: “How do I know if the Lord delights in my way?”

When we allow God to direct our steps, we can walk with confidence on the path set before us, because we’re not walking it alone. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART.

Excellent question. One of the reasons it frequently takes so long to achieve our dreams is because the dreams, and the dreamers, need finessing. Back to Proverbs 16, verse 2:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

In the rare moments when we are truly honest with ourselves, and God, we admit that we want that position at work not just because we can help more people (which is the reason we give to God), but also because we’ll get a hefty salary increase and its attendant social distinction. Or we seek additional speaking engagements not only because we have a message about God’s love and acceptance we want our hearers to hear (God version) but because we want more hearers so that the people who said we were losers in high school would be proven wrong, if only in our minds.

A Pure Heart Is Priceless — and It Protects Us

It’s not wrong to pray for the job position or the speaking engagements, but if God grants them to us while our heart is divided about why we want them, you can bet that our negative motives will overshadow our positive ones. We mean too much to God to be spoiled.

“You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want,” James 4: 2 tells us.

“You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

If you’re like me, you are convinced, that within your dreams, you have the right motives, but the waiting period — which seems so fruitless and exasperating — is a time to continually draw before Him, learn from Him, and allow him to bring about the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2) that purifies our heart — so that it is not damaged by the additional temptations that accompany the fulfillment of God’s answer.  Part of “directing our steps” is keeping them side by side with His, and this involves — moment by moment — submitting our will, and our dreams, into His hands.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I find great comfort in knowing that my primary job, on this earth, is to trust God, and that He will direct the outcome. While it’s hard to trust, it’s feasible, which is more than can be said about tapping into non-existent internal power — or worse, tapping into very existent power that does not draw from God.

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Four Lies Creeping into Today’s Christian Church

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In the shadows, all sorts of things can lurk. We must use the light we have available to us to truly see. Moonlit Night on the Coppei, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Apostasy is nothing new in Christianity. Two thousand years ago Jesus warned that false prophets “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7: 15)

Given that we, the people of God, are frequently referred to as sheep, the term “sheep’s clothing” imparts the disquieting concept that these false prophets will inveigle their way into the church itself, potentially fooling the saints (Matthew 24: 24).

According to the apostle Peter, false teachers arise not only in the general populace (“among the people”) but in the church as well (“among you”). Peter is scathing in his commentary:

“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies . . . In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (2 Peter 2: 1, 3)

Some Things Never Change

While these words were written two thousand years ago, some things never change, and many of Satan’s appealing lies just never go away. They just remove the robe and put on a suit. Here are four we are battling today:

Riches

1) God wants you to be rich! Advocates of the prosperity doctrine assert that true Christians are wealthy Christians.  Through an interesting twisting of Scripture, they convince followers that God proves His love by bestowing material gifts:

“How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 11) and “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.”

Aside from deliberately misinterpreting the word, “gifts,” these teachers noticeably avoid verses like:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matthew 5: 6), or

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24)

A cursory reading of the Bible emphasizes that God wants our hearts and obedience, and while the one thing He gives us, unconditionally, is love — money’s not guaranteed. Christ Himself claimed no place to lay His head at night: why would the Father withhold from His Son the material blessings He is apparently obligated to shower upon us?

Power

2) You have the power, in your mind, to change your life! Theoretically, because the Holy Spirit lives in Christians, we can “tap into” this power, if only we know the right words, methods, and incantations, all of which are taught through various authors’ books.

We’re much smaller, and weaker, and defenseless than we think we are. Bold Innocence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART

The power to be like God — because this is what this teaching promises — goes back to Eden:

The serpent said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3: 4)

God will not abdicate His absolute power to any of His creatures, including us, who demand, declare, proclaim, announce, aver, assure, and insist that He do what we say. This includes “visualizing” the answer to your prayer — it doesn’t matter how hard you believe that a rock will fly, your mind can’t make it do so. If it does fly, you didn’t do it, and think twice before you drag God into it. There is one other person in the garden, however, who is always happy to oblige.

Failure

3) You are the sum of your choices, and what you become in life is ultimately up to you. We all make bad choices, and we manage a few good ones in there as well, but if we are dependent upon the outcome of our choices to make or break our lives, we’re screwed.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” God tells us in Isaiah 30: 15.

The apostle Paul hurt a whole lot of people before his conversion; Peter denied His Lord three times; Abraham, the great Patriarch, lied, twice, about Sarah being his sister or his wife; Isaac repeated the same lie a generation later, with his wife Rebekah.

All of these bad choices should have resulted in bad lives, but God’s intervention and guidance brought about mercy and redemption. So it is with all of us, my friends: overcoming our bad choices doesn’t depend upon our strength, but God’s.

Self

4) The lack of self-esteem is a huge problem in people’s lives: if we can’t love ourselves, how can we love others?

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 1 – 12 is distinctly lacking in encouraging us to lift ourselves up — rather, we find blessing in being poor in spirit, meek, mournful, merciful, pure, and seeking after God. Ironically, it is through pain — physical, mental, and environmental — that we draw closer to God, because otherwise, when things are going fine and we’re enjoying all those material blessings we’re told we deserve to demand, we don’t need God.

As St. Augustine said, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

You don’t have to focus on yourself first, before you focus on others, and indeed, if it were a requisite, then Christ would have quoted three most important commandments, as opposed to two.

The best lie is mostly truth, with just a hint of falsehood cleverly woven throughout. Good lies are also appealing, because otherwise, why would we believe them? Anytime we focus our goals on money, position, or security, we set up a false God in the place of the real one.

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5: 21)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to seek God’s truth by reading His Word — you can’t spot a lie, unless you know the truth.

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Are We Stuck with Our Bad Choices Forever?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sometimes, we wonder if we will have to die before we achieve forgiveness from the things we have done. All it takes is repentance, before God, and while consequences may remain, grace covers a multitude of pain. Iglesia Colombiana, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Tough love.

It’s an oxymoronic — or maybe just moronic — psychological phrase that has crept its way into Christian thought. We’ve been told it’s the solution to codependent relationships, another psychophrase bandied about more frequently than words like grace, mercy, charity, patience, or perseverance, and Christians instruct one another that when people make bad choices, well, they’ve got to live with them, and it’s part of our tough love stance to make them see the light.

(I’m not sure what that light is, in this particular case, but I’d guess it has little to do with the True Light of the World.)

Wisdom from Facebook

Recently, I found a meme wandering through my Facebook account, from new age guru Greg Braden:

“Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument, or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice that you make. Period.”

Gosh this sounds tough and cool and hip and witty and wise, and to a certain extent, it expresses truth:

Proverbs 1: 7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Fools make bad choices, not because they don’t read the right self-help books, but because the don’t listen to the One Person who is Wise:

“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

“A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless.” (Proverbs 14: 15-16)

We All Make Foolish Choices

Read through Proverbs and you get a strong desire, pretty fast, to not be a fool, because things don’t look too good for them. Humans being humans, however, we all, at some point — before we were Christians and realistically after we are Christians — make bad choices. Some of these choices cause collateral damage in many lives, other choices wound only us, but all of them are regrettable and — This Is Life — result in consequences we have to wade through.

We get frustrated with whining, whimpering, grumbling people who do stupid things and don’t want to live through the results of them. Years of society focusing upon self-image, self-esteem, self-assurance, and self-regard (a message preached as strongly in Christian circles as it is in secular ones) have left us irritated with people’s unwillingness to accept the consequences for their actions, so when a quote like Braden’s shows up, it’s not surprising that it’s reposted by Christians.

“Yeah! Tough love, at last,” we tell ourselves.

Mercy Trumps Judgment

Our disgruntlement and sense of vindication is understandable, but before we get too adamant about people getting what they deserve, we might consider that judgment is not complete without mercy, and some of us — notably every one of us who has submitted our life to Christ — have benefited from understanding, compassion, and mercy that we decidedly do not deserve:

Isaiah 1: 18 assures us that, though our sins are ask scarlet, they will be white as snow. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful, Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2: 12)

Yes, there are consequence to all of our choices, good and bad. Any woman who has stared at the plus sign on a pregnancy test knows that the outcome of one, single choice is a lifetime reminder of that moment. Watching one of these lifetime reminders, 18-months-old at the time, shunned by good Christian people at a potluck, I thought,

“It’s bad enough that they’ll never forgive the mother of the child. But what did the child do, other than be born?”

God Rules, by God’s Rules

In answer to the question in the title, your choices will affect your life, but be encouraged, when you let Him, God rules your life: He brings good out of bad (Romans 8: 28), and while the process of getting to the right place may be painful, God’s desire isn’t to see you squirm, but to repent, and follow Him.

As Christians, it’s important that we seek truth and guide our lives by good sources, and while seminar speakers can pump out the Facebook memes, we might think twice, or three or four times, before we repost these statements, or worse, adopt them as maxims to our lives.

Secular thought, seminar thought, New Age thought — it dances lightly around the truth but stomps on the fullness of wisdom because it does not, and will not, acknowledge the existence of God, and any wisdom that excludes God, is not wisdom but witticism.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1: 25)

How’s that for a Facebook meme?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I like a funny saying as much as the next person. I just take a moment after I laugh to ask myself, “Is this true? Are my eyes so blinded by the mis-information and dis-information of the society in which I live, to accept partial truth as complete?”

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The Christian 401k Plan

posted by Carolyn Henderson
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Life is tumultuous, full of movement, and never still. Rather than pray for the waves to stop, we hold the hand of the One who walks on top of them. Opalescent Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART.

The Christian existence is filled with ludicrously shortsighted sayings that sound funny when we first hear them (too often, from the pulpit), but ultimately result in the weakening of our faith and approach to the throne of God.

Like this one, which I politely tolerated long before there were Facebook memes:

“Don’t pray for patience, because by golly, God’ll put you in situations to make sure you get it!” Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Or, if you must, LOL.

Who Wants Pain?

Given that the average human being has an eye out for comfort and security, the end result to statements like this is that we won’t pray for patience, because that cold-blooded, insensate God we serve is ready to slap us around with suffering and pain, since, well, we asked for it.

So we don’t ask for it, because while we would, sort of, kind of, like to grow in our Christian lives, we don’t want to do it that way.

Thankfully, we are told, there are other, painless ways to grow in our Christianity:

We join small groups, sit in circles, and share.

We attend Sunday School, sit in a circle, and nod sagely as the teacher up front reads from his lesson plan. We raise our hands, like schoolchildren, when we have a question or socially acceptable comment.

We participate in ministries suggested to us by those over us.

We watch videos of Christian leaders instructing us how to manage our money, our lives, our children, and our relationships. Afterwards, we sit in a circle, and discuss. The leader reads from his lesson plan.

Busy and Active and Safe

It’s all so safe and secure and busy and purposeful — how could we not feel that we are “living the Christian life” when we spend so much time doing and doing, doing and doing,

” . . .  rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there”? (Isaiah 28: 10)

But after it’s all said and done, and we’ve switched off the nightly conservative Christian news report interpreting our world for us, are we any more patient? Trusting? Perseverent? Courageous? Different, in any significant way, from people who do not believe in Christ?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6: 19 to “not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In other words, there is no Christian 401k retirement plan, one that looks just like what the world wants except with words like Jesus, God, faith, power, and, “It’s a God Thing, man,” thrown in.

God Gives Us Good Things; They Just Don’t Look Like It

Acquiring treasures in heaven involves asking God for them — not for money, not for security, not for status, not for fitting in — but rather, for that patience we’re so scared of praying for.

There’s nothing frightening about praying for patience, or a deeper faith, or for understanding, or a genuinely compassionate heart. While it’s true that the result of this prayer will likely be painful, it’s not because God is a sadist. It’s because He put the desire to pray for whatever quality we need in our heart in the first place, and when we ask Him to push us, change us, teach us, we are responding to His prodding.

Part of growing up involves getting our feet wet and jumping into bigger and bigger puddles. Reflection, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART

From a spiritual perspective, it is a good, necessary thing. From our human point of view, it’s something we’d rather not have, thank you.

Our Choice

So we have a choice, now, of listening to that voice and moving closer, deeper, more profoundly into our relationship with Christ, or we can ignore it, plug our ears, close our eyes, sit in the circle, and share.

In Isaiah 6: 9-10, God said,

“Go and tell this people:

“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.

“‘Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes.

“‘Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.'”

Who is “this people,” and could it possibly be any of us? If you ever wonder, vaguely, whether you’re a little dense, a little obtuse, a little too involved in life’s cares to be fully paying attention, this is a good, solid first step.

The second step is the biggest: it’s asking God, “Are my eyes closed? Are my fingers in my ears? I’m turning, God, and facing you. Heal me.”

What happens next will, I’m pretty dang sure, involve growing pains. But the alternative is to go back to the group, sit in a circle, and nod our heads.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Years ago, while I was gently sleeping, God shook me awake and said, “Open your eyes! I love you, and I love the world so much that I died for you, and them. I’ve given you unique gifts and abilities, and I want you to use them.

“It won’t be easy. You’ll look different from many people around you, including those who call themselves Mine, but I need you up. Now, my precious child. I am with you — why are you afraid?”

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