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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Is America Doomed?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nation of Righteous Millionaires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasoning with Light

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

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

This is bad fruit.

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

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

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

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

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

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Speak up. That’s fine.

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

But do not hate.

Thank You

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

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God Gave You Your Birthday. Celebrate It!

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“You are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4)

We are celebrating a spate of birthdays in our household these days, events that don’t necessarily stop with cake. The person of honor is free from all household work on his or her day; the breakfast and dinner menu wraps around their chosen preferences; and gifts abound. While these latter are not necessarily expensive or lavish, they are well-chosen after much deliberation, and the giver receives just as much, or more, pleasure in watching their opening as the recipient. Everyone gives something.

Blossom inspirational original oil painting of young woman by fruit tree on spring day in meadow by Steve Henderson licensed wall art decor prints at framed canvas art, amazon, and vision art galleries

God’s creation is beautiful and worthy of celebrating; we, as His children, are precious in His sight. Blossom, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed wall art decor prints at Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, and Vision Art Galleries

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In short, birthdays are big. It’s part of the dowry I brought into the marriage, when I decided to spend the rest of my life with a good, gracious man who happened to be raised in a household where birthdays weren’t such a grand affair. After 33 years, he has learned differently.

And so have our kids: whatever legacy I’ve managed to pass on (and as an ordinary person I don’t have public funds to set up an institution or library in my honor), it’s this: all of the progeny know that birthdays, theirs or anyone else’s, are a big deal. And when they meet an uninitiated sort who mentions it happens to be their birthday that day, oh well, my children are advocates for something better:

“Your birthday matters because it’s your day,” they tell the person. “The day is special because you are special. Celebrate!” and then they’ll do something, anything for that person to ensure that somebody noticed and honored the birthday, and the Birthday Person.

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In a society that prides itself on being cool, savvy, cynical, and smooth, birthdays are frequently looked upon like breast milk — you don’t have much to do with them after infancy ends. Only an immature person, the voices murmur, gets excited about cake, or balloons, or presents, or worse yet, wearing a cardboard golden crown, and the impression given to those who still wake up with a sense of anticipation because it is their day, is that they’re hopelessly jejune:

“Grow up. Be sophisticated. Detach yourself. Don’t care too much.”

Sophisticated Cynicism

For some reason, this attitude of emotional distance is admired, and those who cultivate a weary sense of smooth urbanity are looked upon as something to look up to. What low standards we have.

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One of our recent birthdays was a shared one, the six-year-old with a 24-year-old, the child knowing full well that a birthday is cause for celebration, while the adult, who is new to this sort of thing, at first reluctant to allow a fuss to be made around him. Well, that didn’t last long, and the evening ended with the two honored humans taking turns opening presents, exclaiming over what the other received, and fully immersing themselves of the specialness of the day.

Bold Innocence inspirational original oil painting of little girl standing by ocean beach by Steve Henderson, sold, licensed wall art decor prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, framed canvas art, icanvas, and great big canvas

All children who live long enough eventually become grown-ups, but this does not mean that we lose the innocence, the joy, and the wisdom of being a child. Bold Innocence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed wall art decor prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, art. com, and AllPosters.

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This is good and right and true, because each and every human being on this planet is a unique, and beloved, creation of God. Made in His image, we are ALL special, and while most of the time, it’s easy to forget this because the world of men chooses only a few from its number to promote and extol and adulate, in God’s eyes, all of His children are precious.

“You are precious and honored in my sight, and . . . I love you,” God says in Isaiah 43:4, and while yes, I know that this verse is addressed to the Israelite people (and it’s in a completely different context from birthday celebrations), this is a good time to mention that God is perfectly capable of raising up more children for Abraham out of stones (Matthew 3:9), and I, and you, and many others, are among those children.

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And as children of our loving Father, we have been given many gifts, starting with the first breath of life in the first moment of our very first birthday. Subsequent birthdays, even — and most especially — after we have grown up into grownups, are a meaningful opportunity to acknowledge our Father’s love: this is something that we need a lifetime to understand, because there are so many counter messages assaulting us from the world of men.

We are precious. We are valuable. We are loved. Regardless of our age (including whether or not we are still in our mother’s womb), our job title, our background, our last name, or the social income caste into which our corporate culture places us, we are of inestimable worth for no other reason than that God our Father created us in His image, and He loves us very much.

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And He rejoices over, and celebrates, our birthdays.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my strong desire is to reach — one by one — my real, regular, and ordinary brothers and sisters on this planet and tell them just how extraordinary they are, because they are loved by our extraordinary God.

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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.

Posts complementing this one are

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Do We Treat Fellow Christians Like Servants?

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