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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Some Days, We Feel Pathetic

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Just outside our dining room window is an extremely pathetic nectarine tree.

Actually, when it comes to producing nectarines, it’s phenomenally successful. With its lack of leaves, hollowed out inner section, and floppy branches, however, it projects a wretched state of abject despondency that makes one think,

This is our pathetic nectarine tree, which has been providing 2-4 pieces of fruit, everyday, for weeks. Not so pathetic after all. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

This is our pathetic nectarine tree, which has been providing 2-4 pieces of fruit, everyday, for weeks. Not so pathetic after all. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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“That is a really loser tree.”

But like most quick conclusions, this one is inaccurate, because no matter how uncomely and unprepossessing the tree, it does fulfill the major function of its calling, in that in produces nectarines.

Jesus’s Fig Tree

In Mark 12:25, Jesus interacted with another tree — a fig tree — which wasn’t as successful as our little tree in fulfilling its calling:

“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again,.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”

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Later in the chapter, the disciples note, with astonishment, that the fig tree has withered, never to fool anyone again by its false promise to produce.

Now there are many applications we can draw from this narrative, which precedes a long accounting of Jesus’s interaction with Jewish leaders, priests, scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees, all of whom are fairly well known for their looking pretty good on the outside but not so shiny and clean within (check out the 7 Woes in Matthew chapter 23), but today I want to discuss this story in light of fruit, and fruit bearing, and how many Christians go through life thinking that they’re withered dry sticks of dying vegetation, while they envy the fig trees in the distance.

The Ways We Covet

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We’ve all done this, you know, and at base it’s a form of coveting. Rather than covet our neighbor’s house, or wife, male or female servant, or donkey (Exodus 20:17), we covet our neighbor’s situation: his gifts, say, or his abilities, and we consider our neighbor a success because 1) he has money, 2) he speaks well and others speak well of him, and/or 3) he seems to be doing so much for the Lord, in such an important fashion, while we are not.

And no matter how many times we tell ourselves,

Reflection inspirational oil painting of little girl and woman beach jumping in puddle by Steve Henderson

How often do we tell ourselves that we are too small, weak, pathetic, or useless to do anything good for God? Reflection, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Vision Art Galleries

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“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” (1 Samuel 16:7),

we counteract the import of the message by adding, mentally,

“Yes, that’s true, but if I were really worth something to God, He would show it by blessing me the way He does everyone else.”

From a Distance — We See Little

The funny thing about seeing people, or fig trees, from a distance is that you only see an illusion of who or what they are, and not necessarily the real thing. To see that, you have to get up close, personal, and within range of picking any fruit if it’s there — and most of us who know people that well also know the many foibles, faults, and issues they deal with. Rarely are we fooled into thinking a close, close loved one is a paradigm of perfection, but far too often do we fall into the trap of putting a relative stranger — whether he’s a “real” celebrity or a distant acquaintance at work, school, or church — in a high and mighty place.

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“Look at all the leaves on that fig tree,” we murmur, awed and cowed at the same time. “It must be full of fruit.”

In most cases, with “real” celebrities, we are unable to get close enough to see if there actually are figs behind all the foliage, but given the experience we have in real life with real people, we can extrapolate the lesson:

Outward appearances do not necessarily reflect inward beauty.

Facebook Fruit

Recently, a young woman mentioned to me, “I hate reading about people on Facebook. Everyone seems to have their lives together; not only that, but they’re successful: they have money, good jobs, new cars, and they’re happy,”

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to which I replied,

“Do you seriously think that people post all the bad things in their life, on Facebook? Will they say, ‘I have $35,000 in credit card debt, and it keeps me up at night’? or, ‘I have no real friends, and I’m so, so lonely’? Facebook gives a one-dimensional outlook on a person’s life.”

Facebook is the 21st century version of the distant fig tree, in full leaf but with little or no fruit.

Now of course, since today’s musing is an analogy, as opposed to an allegory, we avoid the fear (or hope?) that Jesus is going to wither all of the preening voices on Facebook, but let us be encouraged by Paul’s reminder in 2 Corinthians 4:7, that,

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God, and not from us.”

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God, the master gardener, tends His orchards with greater care and ability than we do our nectarine tree, and we can be assured that, even though we may look, and feel, pathetic, when we follow Him and read His word and speak to Him in prayer and humble ourselves before Him, we do produce fruit, and this is good.

He will prune, and snip, and graft, and chop, and water, and coax His trees to produce more and more fruit, and it is not up to us to look at our drooping leaves and say, “I’m so pathetic.”

Rather, let us be assured by His promise, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit — fruit that will last.” (John 15:16)

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage all Christians to seek their worth in Christ, not in their impressions of the people around them.

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Free Yourself from Bible Study Myths

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Why won’t you attend Bible study?” a man asked me once.

“Do you hate studying the Bible?”

Spirit of the Canyon inspirational original oil painting of woman at grand canyon with fabric by Steve Henderson

Anytime you seek to free yourself from rules that the majority of people follow, you’ll be told that you’re different, dissident, and difficult. Well, go ahead — would you rather be free, or compliant? Spirit of the Canyon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Seriously, when you get a question framed like that, it’s best to just talk about the weather. The person asking will never understand the answer, because their eyes are closed.

Bible study, which really means nothing more than reading the Bible, is another one of those activities that has been appropriated, and defined, by the establishment church, so that too many people, when they hear the words, think this:

The Pattern

1) A group gets together — at home or in church — and sits in a circle.

2) A leader “facilitates,” which means that he speaks, everyone else listens, and a limited — very limited — amount of discussion is allowed.

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3) Generally, a book other than the Bible accompanies the study as commentary, teaching, support, and instruction.

4) If there is no attendant book, the leader’s voice is the final one on the meaning of the passage.

But Bible Study, in its pure form, means just that: you, the Christian, read the Bible, as slowly or as quickly as you wish. You choose the book within the Bible that you want to read, and you can skip. It’s remarkably freeing, and to make it more so, I encourage you to dispel three common, but errant, myths about reading the Bible:

You Need Help

Myth #1 — You can’t do this on your own.

The idea that only certain people — pastors, elders, deacons, pastors’ wives, missionaries, Celebrity Christians, televangelists, speakers, or book authors approved by the secularly-owned “Christian” publishing houses — are qualified to teach spiritual truths is a lie that just won’t die, because we keep feeding it.

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“What if you get something wrong?!” others ask in horror when you mention that you read the Bible by yourself, relying upon the Holy Spirit as your guide.

Enchanted inspirational original oil painting of woman in green dress in garden with sunlight by Steve Henderson

What is so frightening about being on our own? Sometimes, we should close our eyes, let our minds rest, and feel the sun — and the Son — embracing us. Enchanted, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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As a practical answer to that question, I encourage you to wander — very briefly — through the Christian section of a bookstore and ask yourself, “Is ALL of this stuff spiritually accurate?”

Since the obvious answer is no, you are then led to the very real possibility that some of the authors, pushing their products, “are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women (Paul’s words, not mine), who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:6-7)

And, how do you spot these people? Well, let’s close the circle:

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 43: 16).

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In other words, the better you know what’s in the Bible yourself, the more adept you will be at spotting the misuse of it by others.

Stay in One Place

Myth #2: Don’t move on from one verse until you fully understand its meaning.

While this sounds logical, it’s pretty much a recipe for frustration, especially when you run into a verse like Deuteronomy 20:16:

“However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.”

This includes women and children, which is a fairly bothersome concept for many of us. If you can’t move on until you understand this, then you’re stuck on Deuteronomy 20:16, that is, if you didn’t get stopped at Genesis 22 in which Abraham was instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac. We’ve all heard various interpretations of why we shouldn’t worry too much about this incident, but never any adequate answer to,

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“But what about Isaac? What lasting effect did this event have upon his relationship with his earthly father, Abraham, and his heavenly father, God?”

There is a temptation to accept a less than acceptable answer, simply so that one can move on, as opposed to saying,

“Whoa, God. This is a difficult verse, and I don’t see how it can be in line with your grace, mercy, and love. But I know that You are true, and there is an acceptable explanation. Please, in your timing, show it to me. Until then, I rest in knowing that you are all good.”

While the average atheist will call this a cop-out, when it comes to God, we either accept that He is all good, or not. We also accept that He is all knowing, and that sometimes we simply don’t comprehend what He’s talking about. The various end times prophecies in Daniel, Matthew, and Revelation come to mind, and when we insist upon a proper answer at the proper time, we’re in danger of accepting pat answers by . . . well, Celebrity Christians who make money off of telling us these things.

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You? With an Original Thought?

Myth #3: Don’t even imagine that you could come up with an interpretation that no one has yet had.

Speaking of Celebrity Christians, I gleaned this piece of wisdom out of a book concerning how to study the Bible, by a Celebrity Christian who teaches others what the Bible says.

For some reason, although her interpretations are adequate and suitable to be placed in a workbook, yours, and mine, are not.

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go,” Isaiah 48: 17 tells us.

Now while God can, indeed, use commentaries, and videos, and Scripture notes, human teachers, and outside resources to teach us what is in His word, He also teaches without those resources. You’ll never know how much you can learn, however, until you take the training wheels off and let Him give you a little push.

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I assure you that He will show you something that — while some human being, at some time, in some place, has maybe learned before — will definitely NOT be in line with much of what you are taught in an establishment church setting. Our Celebrity Christian author would have you reject this, and accept — passively — what you are told by others.

Christians, let’s quit being so compliant, tacit, obedient, and accepting of everything we are told, and the first and foremost step toward that is reading the Bible — by ourselves. In many places, this very act is illegal, which should spark the question:

“Why?”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I don’t hate Bible study — I just avoid, at all costs, church establishment small group meetings that purport to be the same thing.

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Looking for Your Ministry? 5 Ways to Find It

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Many Christians, especially in church settings, focus — obsess — about finding their ministry, and they pore through 1 Corinthians 12 searching for suggestions:

“Do I have faith? or a message of wisdom? I’m pretty sure I don’t have the ability to manifest miraculous powers. What, God, do you want me to DO?”

Contemplation inspirational original oil painting of girl with autumn orange leaves by Steve Henderson

When we take time to think, and wait on God, we frequently find the answer, without having to buy yet another book the proposes its own solutions. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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It’s a profound question, and one that we ourselves can answer without buying yet another how-to book from a Celebrity Christian. Rather, let’s look at Scripture, pray, and listen to God’s still small voice, a voice that is challenging to hear unless we’re being still ourselves. Consider this thought:

Our “ministry” consists not so much in what we do for God, but in who we are.

In other words, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, if we speak in tongues of men and angels, prophesy, have faith that moves mountains, and give all we have to the poor — but have not love, we — and those we “minister” to — gain nothing.

So, it’s worth repeating: It’s not what we do, it’s who we are. For those of you who like lists, here are five verses that give us practical behavior changes that we can ask God to implement in our lives:

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Hearing

1) Listen more than we speak.

James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

As Christians, we operate under the misconception that we need to 1) solve people’s problems and 2) convince them to follow God, so we have a tendency to talk AT others as opposed to shutting up and allowing them to speak. Frequently, we get defensive, and thereafter offensive, if a hurting person lashes out with,

“God’s a crock! Who would believe in Him anyway?”

“You’re just a pagan infidel!” we shoot back. “No wonder God wants nothing to do with you.”

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Wouldn’t we be more effective if we just listened — something so many people long for, but so few people do — and didn’t try to fix things, change things, or push humans into a box?

Humbling

2) Humble ourselves.

Romans 12:3 advises, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

In all of our lives, God places people who are really, really different: they’re loud and embarrassing in public places, they say discomfitingly awkward things and make others squirm, they have exasperatingly peculiar — and completely uncool — clothing and personal hygiene choices.

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In being friends with them, it is tempting to think, “I am so gracious and merciful in dealing with this unlikable person,” and it doesn’t help that others — who don’t want to be associated with such social pariahs — feed our egos by saying, “Oh, you’re showing the love of God!”

Any time we harbor a secret sense of superiority over another because we’re 1) clean, 2) functionally sophisticated, 3) able to speak without spitting — the list goes on — we offend the very person we are trying to help.

Ironically, when we have this attitude, we ourselves lose out on the relationship, because we don’t think the other person has anything of worth to offer us back.

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Accepting

3) Recognize that lowly isn’t loser.

In Mark 10:13-16, the disciples turn away people bringing children to Jesus, but Jesus Himself is indignant at this attitude:

Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother and daughter child in Victorian home by Steve Henderson

Children are so much more important than we adults realize. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

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“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such of these.”

In too many societies, children are nobodies because they don’t make money (unless they’re trafficked) and they require more work than they provide benefit, so we’re tempted to consider them not 100 percent human beings (and when they’re still in the womb, where they’re supposed to be safe, we pass them off as “fetuses.”)

Recognize that, not only are needy human beings everywhere, but you yourself are one of them. Treat others gently as if they can be broken, because they can.

Being Diffident

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4) You’re important, and you’re not.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 20: 26-27, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom to many.”

At a speaking engagement I was invited to, I found myself, prior to the ceremony, unattended, with no contact person, in a crowded room, sitting on a bench while numerous strangers milled about, chatting in tight little groups it was impossible to join. (It’s a good thing to cultivate a skill in being comfortable, alone, in group situations.)

As I was admiring the proximate artwork, another unattached attendee joined me and we began talking. Eventually, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the speaker! I thought that you’d be in with all the important people!”

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“I am,” I replied. “I’m with you.”

When you are elevated to a high position, recognize the tendency to feel as if you deserve certain perks for being there, and remember Jesus’s attitude.

Sympathizing

5) Cultivate empathy.

After loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, the second most important commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 31.

Regardless of how much psychologists — including “Christian” ones — insist that we suffer from self-esteem issues, most of us know how to take care of Number One, and we do. Without falling into focusing on ourselves, we can use our awareness of how certain situations or people make us feel, to avoid inflicting this same pain on others.

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If someone makes you feel dumb, then be aware of that and don’t act that way toward others. If you feel alone and awkward in social situations, then the next time you’re in one, seek out someone who looks more alone and awkward than you are.

Use the negative aspects of your life to understand those elements in the lives of others.

The Bible is full of wisdom, and to this most important question we all have: “How do I live my life in such a way to make it worthwhile?” there are far more than five verses, with five ideas.

Don’t worry about finding your ministry. Seek God’s wisdom, and your entire life will be a ministry.

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I offer you this thought: if you’re breathing, you’re ministering. Breathe deep, and seek humility.

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The Purposeless, Driven Life

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Christians come in all shapes, sizes, and maturity levels, and the more honest we are, the more fun we are to be with, even if what we’re saying or working through is painful. The other day, someone told me:

For all that many Christians read books ABOUT the Bible, they spend very little time with the Bible itself. This leads to spiritual immaturity, and a stunting of growth. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

For all that many Christians read books ABOUT the Bible, they spend very little time with the Bible itself. This leads to spiritual immaturity, and a stunting of growth. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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“I’m so afraid that Jesus is impatient with me. I don’t read the Bible much, and I don’t know what it says. I don’t think that Jesus can use someone like me.”

Sentences like that always make me ache inside.

It’s not that there’s a problem with the sentiment, it’s that the person mentioning it has been a Christian for many, many years, and attending church, and Bible studies, and small group meetings, for just about that long. If this stuff worked, I thought, then why isn’t it, well, working?

While it’s easy to blame the individual (that’s what businesses and corporations and organizations and governments  and establishments always do), perhaps it’s time to look at what we’re telling that individual to do, specifically, when it comes to advancing his or her spiritual life.

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Read This

“Read this book,” we say, handing them the latest in Celebrity Christian Cr –, um,  pap. “We’re having a small group study on it, and we’re going through one chapter each week.”

Gracious. The whole process sounds mind numbingly boring. The last several times I’ve been in the Christian books section of a store I’ve paged through the multi-million-copy best seller that just about every evangelical church in the country has done manifold weekly studies on, one agonizing chapter at a time, and I just can’t manage a paragraph before I feel like getting an egg salad sandwich, something I’ve never actually eaten because the very sight of one makes me nauseous.

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The Fruit Vendor inspirational original oil painting of South American woman at market stall by Steve Henderson

Growth as a Christian requires good spiritual food, and the best source of that is directly at the Source — God Himself, through His word. The Fruit Vendor, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Fare such as this (the book, not the sandwich), however, is what we regularly feed the minds, and spirits, of believers – even “seasoned” ones who should be mature by now — in the name of “growing as a Christian.”

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“Growing as a Christian is something that Jesus wants us to do,” we read in our weekly gatherings. “He wants us to be strong in our faith as believers.”

Paul’s Not Impossible to Understand

Well yes, that’s true, but Paul said it better when he commented, in Colossians 3:1-2:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Further reading of the passage encourages us to put away a fairly complete list of inappropriate, but highly human behaviors, and exchange them, instead, for Godly ones, not a task we are up to on our own, but then again, God doesn’t expect us to do these things without His help.

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“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing gratitude in your hearts to God,” Paul concludes at the end of the passage.

 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” – that’s the secret, you know, one that doesn’t require years of specialized training before we can start, nor one that devours 18 or so weeks of our lives, one chapter at a time.

Celebrity Teaching versus Truth

If as many people who have read “study” books would invest as much time and effort into reading the Book that the other books give the illusion of talking about, perhaps there would be less guilt, less insecurity, less spiritual agony by people who are well taught in the teachings of Celebrity Christians, but not the Bible.

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Read the Bible. Just the Bible, which, ironically, in many “Bible” studies is not the central focus. While it’s tempting to think that you can’t understand it all, that’s okay – because nobody, not even the people who write books about how to study it, understand it all, nor does everyone agree on what every verse means. If you trust yourself enough to read the Book that is written in your own language, and do so regularly, you may find insight into passages that you never knew you could have.

You, yes, you, can make discoveries from this rich, relevant resource.

Afraid that you’ll misinterpret or get something wrong? Well, if that doesn’t bother the Celebrity Christians, don’t let it bother you.  When you enter into study diligently, with a humble heart willing to be taught by the Master, He’ll find ways to guide and correct you.

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At the very least, when you read God’s words, you read His promises, many of which have to do with His being there, His being merciful and kind and patient, His love for His children, and you won’t have to live, chronically, with the doubts of the woman I mentioned earlier in this essay, because when you make a regular point of reading sentences like this:

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6)

And this,

“I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Isaiah 41: 10)

You encounter and appreciate the nature of our Father, a nature so oppositional to anything we are accustomed to dealing with on this earth, that we can’t fathom it, at all, unless we learn about it from its primary source, God.

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So . . . read His book. It’s a best seller.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, there are a lot of people who call themselves Christian in this world, but they’re satisfied with serving a substitute Christ, as opposed to getting to know the real one. So they read books that talk ABOUT the Bible, but never the Bible itself.

Or, if they do read the Bible, they never do so on their own, relying, always, on another human being to interpret it for them. This is not the path to becoming a strong Christian, which may explain why — while a lot of people call themselves Christians — very few are mature ones.

That doesn’t have to be you, or me.

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