Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

“Reading the Bible Makes Me Fall Asleep”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sometimes we read, sometimes we sleep, and it’s good when we can get enough of both. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

I was chatting with a gracious and dedicated person the other day who blurted out,

“I can’t read the Bible for 20 minutes without falling asleep!”

You know, not many people are this honest, and if more of us were, we’d enjoy being in one another’s company.

Because as I’m sure you know, the correct answer to this lament looks like this:

“Obviously, you do not have a close enough relationship with Jesus. If you did, you would be so passionate and excited about His Word, that you couldn’t possibly go to sleep.”

Dispensing with Convention

There. Now that we’ve got the conventional, insensitive response out of the way, maybe we can move on to solving the problem, which to me looks twofold:

1) This person isn’t getting enough sleep

and

2) This person WANTS to be interested in what’s in the Bible, but isn’t sure about how to go about it.

Let’s talk about Problem 1 first, with the obvious solution of, somehow, getting more sleep. One of my progeny, in the effort to survive in a cold, calculating society that treats people like cattle, works 7 days a week at low-paying jobs (she has a degree, by the way, as do many people you encounter in low-paying jobs) to barely make it. Add that to the coursework she’s simultaneously pursuing to improve her lot, plus time to eat and sit with the kitty, and there’s not much time left to sleep.

Stop worrying about convention and being conventional and do things you own colorful, original, independent way. Mesa Walk, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Light in the Box.

Make Sleep a Priority

But she makes sleep a priority, grabs what she can, and when she does arise at 4:30 a.m., it’s not for Quiet Time, but because she has to be at work by 5. Too many Christians feel compelled and impelled to wake up when it’s still dark and “read” their Bible, when realistically they are staring at the tiny print and nodding off.  They need more sleep.

You know that snitty little ditty — “Seven days without prayer — or Bible reading — makes one weak!”? It’s not in the Bible. God will wait, and if you need to catch up on your sleep, He understands. (Incidentally, you can pray to Him, which basically means talk to Him, anytime. It doesn’t have to fit into a designated Quiet Time. And another Incidentally: the term Quiet Time is not in the Bible either. Can we get rid of it?)

So, my gracious and dedicated conversant needs to feel free to get the sleep he or she needs. Step One.

Less Time, More Interesting

Step Two: if you fall asleep after 20 minutes in the Bible, then don’t read for 20 minutes. Try 10. Or 5. Just read something. And ponder it throughout the day. Over time, what we read, and think, and pray, adds up.

Step Three, which addresses Problem Two, above: find a book in the Bible that interests you, and read it. Me? I love Genesis, for the stories and mystique; it segues into Exodus, which knocks your socks off if you approach it by believing that what it says is true — yes, God parted the Red Sea, and yes, Moses got water out of a rock. For five minutes out of the day, free yourself from having to find a natural explanation for these miracles, and blow your mind by asking, “What if these miracles actually happened?”

Good God — what does that say about God?

Now at some point in Exodus you’re going to run smack into,

“Make the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth, with an opening for the head in its center. There shall be a woven edge like a collar around this opening, so that it will not tear.” (Exodus 28: 31-32) I assure you that most of us, no matter how rested, will fall asleep after 20 minutes of this.

Skip around — Nobody’s Watching

So feel free to skip. Someday, you may want to come back and actually read this, but today, if you nod off over it and avoid the entire Bible because you dread reading about the tunic, and the turban, and the linen undergarments, what are you gaining?

There are no rules for reading the Bible, and those who make them are more concerned about the profit they receive from their study books than they are about your relationship with God.

Get some sleep. Ask God to help you with this.

And pick up His book and read something in it. Ask Him to help you with this, too.

Our God instructs us and teaches us in the right way (Isaiah 28: 26). Because He is wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom (Isaiah 28: 29), He knows how to work through our unique circumstances with the compassion and understanding that we so desperately need.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I strive to counteract the messages of opprobrium, reproof, and disapprobation that too often make up what we follow as religious, and Christian, teaching.

God is a God of love — we overlook and forget that, but it is the central point from which every step we take, derives.

Posts similar to this one are

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How Many Friends Do You Have?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Be honest with me now: in a group setting, how free do you feel to TRULY be yourself? Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed, open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

In the highly controlled, conformist society into which I was born (the United States), how successful — and normal — you are depends on certain factors, many of which have to do with participating in groups.

Indeed, one of the key arguments that homeschoolers — who have a reputation for being radically different and independent — use to prove to the outside world that their children are normal is the number of social interactions each of those children is in. The nameless faces of conventional experts list  3.2 or so as a healthy baseline number, and it looks something like this:

1) church youth group (1 point)

2) 4-H (1 point)

3) soccer (1.2 points — we always give extra for team sports and athletics)

More Is Better

This, we understand, represents the shy child, because a more “normal” one would have twice, or three times, the number of activities. The nameless faces do not list a maximum number of groups for optimum mental and social health because, in our society, you can’t belong to too many groups.

“We need to be with people,” we’re told. “Hermits are mental aberrations, and no society can thrive when its people are isolating themselves.”

(When you’re a Christian, you phrase it this way: “The Bible tells us to ‘forsake not the assembling of one another,’ so we need to attend church, and small groups, EVERY week. Skipping is a sign of sin and disinterest in God.”)

Incidentally, qualified group activities do not include informal play time with neighbors and friends, nor do they allot importance to interaction with family members. This latter, actually, could be totally absent, and the child’s life — as long as it included the requisite 3.2 qualified group activities — still qualifies as normal.

Why are we so afraid of being alone? Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; open edition licensed print at Great Big Canvas.

We Don’t Grow out of This

As children grow up into adults, the group memberships change, but the requirement that they exist does not: you’ll still go to church, but instead of youth group you’ll graduate into Young Singles for Christ, then Newly Married, or Older Singles for Christ, or Widowed and Divorced Christians for Christ — there’s a notch, er niche, for all of us). You can still be in 4-H, only now as a “leader,”  or you can be a follower in any number of community service organizations.

As with children, informal interaction with friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family doesn’t really count, especially at church, where fellowship — unless it is organized and directed — is censured. So is studying the Bible, intensively, outside of a small group or free from a guide. I mean, left to your own devices — and Christ’s leading — who can say what you’ll start to believe?

How about . . . the truth?

Group Think

While it’s good to have people in your life — especially ones who love and care about you like . . . family and friends — limiting interaction with them to primarily group settings fosters an under confidence in the value of your own thoughts, beliefs, questions, desires, dreams, and goals. In a group setting, everything you contribute is vetted through the group filter, and team-talk aside, every group has a dominant voice, promulgated through its leader. When you wrap your entire existence around belonging to groups, you may count yourself as having a lot of friends (the real ones are the ones who stick around when you leave the group), but what you definitely don’t have is a lot of say. One quickly learns when to speak, and how, and rare is the group that truly encourages every member to think, speak, and act independently.

This is bad enough in 4-H, when we’re discussing the butter/shortening ratio of the ultimate chocolate chip cookie, but when it comes to our spiritual existence, and our relationship with God, vetting everything through a group produces a sense of conformity that prevents people from asking the big questions, like,

“Why do I pray and pray and pray and never seem to get an answer to my prayers?”

“How could God possibly send people who have never heard about Him to hell for not hearing about Him?”

“If Christ has forgiven all my sins, and God tosses them as far as east is to west, then why does He punish me for skipping Sunday School?”

Talk to Christ Directly

In a group setting, you’ll get a specific parcel of answers for these, most of which lay the blame for even daring to ask the question on you. Pull away from the group, however, and ask Christ directly.

(Yes, that’s right: you can talk to God directly. As a former Catholic, this was an epiphany for me, until it dawned on me that too many Protestants, while they don’t have priests, have pastors that function as priests.)

You want people in your life? There are 7 billion of them on this planet, and many of them you can get to know outside of a group setting. Start with the people in your household, and work out from there. Take a walk with someone. Invite another to tea at your house. Put together dinner with a neighboring family.

You’ll learn, and impact, far more from intimate interaction then you will from a month of Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday meetings.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I’m trying to find the seekers — people who look, really look, at what God is saying in the Bible, and say to Him back:

“Is this stuff true? Really true? Because if it is, then I WANT it. Not the substitute that people shove in my face, but the real thing.”

That’s what I’m looking for, and bit by bit, I’m finding it.

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Jesus Isn’t All You Need — He’s All You’ve GOT

posted by Carolyn Henderson

To navigate the waters of life, you need a boat, and sometimes, it seems like a small boat, indeed. But it floats. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re in a social situation, somebody asks you how you’re doing, and since the most significant event in your life lately has been the loss of your job, or the diagnosis of a serious disease, or your teenager’s totaling the car but mercifully walking away unscathed, you mention this.

And the person listening leans forward, touches your arm, and says,

“Jesus is all you need. Excuse me while I go refresh my lemonade.”

You’re Not Helping

No offense, mind you, but quite frankly, telling me that Jesus is all I need — when what I really need right now is a means to pay the electric bill, or a doctor who will actually listen to me and answer my questions, or a working car — just doesn’t cut it. I know you mean well, but in five words, not taking account the part about the lemonade, you’ve managed to

1) underplay the suffering I’m going through,

2) subtly admonish me for my lack of faith,

3) leave me standing, in the middle of the room, feeling like an idiot.

Theoretically, I know that Jesus is all I need. Theoretically, that’s what you know too, because if you knew any more, or had any actual experience of Jesus meeting your needs when you were up against the Red Sea with no boat, you would have foregone the lemonade and stayed to talk.

Glib Lip-Speak

“Jesus is all we need,” in addition to being a church chorus that sounds like a dirge, is one of those pat answers Christians feel obliged to throw out when they don’t know the response to someone’s question, or are faced with another person’s sad story and don’t know what to say. It’s so much easier to comment, “Jesus is all you need,” and then leave.

As a child of God, what I need is patience, love, strength, guidance, teaching, compassion, direction and care from Someone bigger, stronger, and far more capable than I. Into the Surf, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“God is in control.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

“The Lord is so good.”

We don’t always have to say anything — Job, in his sufferings, would probably have appreciated less advice than silence, and sometimes, silence is all we have. It is golden, especially when accompanied by concern, sympathy, caring, prayer, and a genuine desire to do anything in our power to help the situation.

Honesty Works

Other times, honesty on our part, in response to honesty on another person’s part, is oddly encouraging:

“I really don’t know what to say. This is a difficult situation, and I’m not God. But I will pray for you, and I’m starting right now.” When a person is desperate, sad, discouraged, and dancing with despair, knowing that someone cares enough to pray for them — and really do it — is something to grab onto, because by this time, one realizes that it’s not so much that Jesus is all you need, but that

Jesus is all you’ve got.

Both sentences say the same thing, but in a different way, with the first implying that you don’t have enough faith to believe, and the second baldly stating a fact that you can’t do anything about. But you don’t have to, because Jesus being all you’ve got really isn’t such a bad situation. Think of it:

I Can’t Do Anything, but God Can

He is “able to to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” (Ephesians 3: 20); He meets all our needs according to his glorious riches (Philippians 4: 20); and His plans for our life are good ones, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 11)

When you consider the double fact of His being compassionate, gracious, faithful, and loving (Deuteronomy 34: 6) and our being the beloved children of God (1 John 3: 1), then Jesus being all we’ve got truly is enough, and if we have difficulty understanding, accepting, or believing this, that’s okay.

Our gracious Father is patient and wise, more than willing to take the time to walk beside us, carry us when necessary, and teach us Who He is and how much He loves us. He wants us to want Him, to turn to Him first and always, and this generally doesn’t happen until we realize that there is no other alternative.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I explore the concept of actually living the stuff we so glibly say. It’s not easy when you take God at His word and tell Him, “Yes. This is what I want. It looks impossible, and I’ve only heard of the Red Sea being parted once. But you’re the same God, you love your people, and I’m one of your people.”

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Christianity, and the Problem of Hell

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Most of us have an easier time accepting the goodness of Santa Claus than we do the goodness of God — if the former has this whole naughty and nice thing down fair and square, then surely, somehow, God does as well? Little Angel Bright by Steve Henderson, original oil painting, signed limited edition print, and open edition poster.

Most people, Christians or not, don’t like to talk about hell. Many seekers abhor the subject because they ask, quite logically,

“How can a God who professes to be loving, kind, faithful, and merciful toss anyone into hell? I mean, I’m a lowly worm of a human being, and I would never reject one of my children to the point of condemning them to death.”

This is a logical statement — soundly based upon a sense of justice and fairness that mirrors those attributes in God.

The standard Christian response, at least the one I’ve been slapped with, is,

“God’s ways are not our ways! You are a SINNER and in your disobedience and immorality you are UNABLE to see that God is loving and gracious, and if you do not submit to Him, you DESERVE eternal damnation!”

I’m in; You’re not

Too often, there’s a disturbingly smug sense of glee or satisfaction on the part of the speaker who knows, because he has properly recited the Four Spiritual Laws (many people do this repeatedly over their lifetimes to insure that they’ve got it right and won’t, by  inadvertence, be eternally damned), that HE’S going to heaven, even if YOU — and millions and millions of  corrupt, depraved, nameless and wicked people — are not.

It’s when you put faces on these people, and give them families, and jobs, and emotions, and settle them in an area where the name Jesus is completely inaccessible, or damage them by people who have literally spit the name of Jesus in their face, that the questions arise.

“They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life,” (Matthew 25: 46) you are then told. “See? There’s a HELL for unbelievers! It doesn’t MATTER if they can’t hear the story of Jesus. God is fair and just and this is how He does it.”

Read More Than One Verse

If you back up a few verses, however, to 31 onward, and read, you will not see any mention of “accepting Jesus” as you will injunctions to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, protect the sojourner, clothe the naked — in essence, take care of the Least of These.

The Least of These were very important to Jesus; we can hardly go wrong in paying attention to them in our search for truth. Seaside Story, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

This isn’t universalism; it’s simply reading the passage and not inserting statements that aren’t there. The difference between the sheep and the goats is how they treated the least of these. So maybe our next question should be, “Who are the least of these, and where are they in my life?”

Revelations 21: 8  consigns the “cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars,” to the fiery place of burning sulfur, and while it’s popular to single out the “unbelieving” and the “sexually immoral,” very few of us can stand up and say that we’ve never been cowardly, never lied, never worshiped money and position at the expense of God.

Justice, and Mercy

This is where Jesus comes in: He offers to take the punishment we deserve because, frankly, doing wrong does deserve punishment. If someone stole our car and bashed it into a wall, we wouldn’t expect him to walk off without paying. We would expect justice, but for justice to work, it is tempered by mercy, an exceedingly difficult combination for us to comprehend. We deserve punishment, but we need mercy.

God holds the balance of both, and while, in 2,000 years, we’ve never come up with a good answer to, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” we might consider setting the question, and the issue of hell, aside while we focus on God’s goodness, mercy, love, faithfulness, grace, and beauty. There is no evil in God, so however He does what He does, it is fair and right and just and good, and the reason the hell question bothers us is because the interpretations we are given destabilize our sense of God’s goodness.

Ignorance of God’s Understanding

Josh McDowell, in his most excellent book, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (ISBN 978-0-7852-4219-2, page 408), quotes the 19th century poet and literary critic Samuel Coleridge:

“When we meet an apparent error in a good author, we are to presume ourselves ignorant of his understanding, until we are certain that we understand his ignorance.”

In terms of God, this means that, when we encounter disturbing sections or concepts in the Bible that seem to refute God’s inherent goodness and grace, we don’t

1) immediately assume that God’s not such a Great Guy after all

or

2) toss out the disturbing sections because they must surely be symbolic, wrong, or mis-written by a human being.

Rather, we accept that we have a conundrum — and as I mentioned, many of these conundrums have been with us for thousands of years — that’s beyond our understanding right now. Let it go, ask God for wisdom, and move on — never losing sight of the critical point of God’s perfection, power, grace, mercy, judgment, wisdom, and love.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about the things many of us think and wonder about, but generally avoid mentioning because someone, somewhere, will attack us for asking.

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