Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

5 Things to Know about Forgiveness

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The first time I heard this sentence:

“Jesus talked about hell more than anything else,”

Morning's Glory inspirational original oil painting of still life roses and flowers in clear green glass vase by Steve Henderson

Forgiveness is more than mumbling, “I’m sorry.” It’s actually a beautiful thing, worth desiring. Morning’s Glory, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

I knew it was inaccurate, but hadn’t read the Bible enough to say so with confidence. Now that I have grown up, as a Christian, and started chewing meat, I read very little about hell, and much, much more about love.

Another favorite topic of Jesus’s, but not necessarily ours, is forgiveness.

We all know we’re supposed to do it, we feel bad when we don’t, and sometimes it’s easier to just not think about it. But forgiveness is such a crucial element to Christianity — because it’s a major factor in love — that it’s worth asking God to help us successfully accomplish it:

It’s Difficult

1) Forgiveness isn’t easy.

While this sounds ridiculously obvious, it’s worth mentioning because, within some Christian circles, there is this idea that we are patient, holy, even-tempered beings, and if we’re not, then the Holy Spirit is not living in us.

But Ecclesiastes 7:20 quite practically reminds us,

“There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”

And 1 John 1:8 says,

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

When someone hurts us or someone we love, we hit, and hate, back — this is a natural, normal response, and to deny it is to deny our humanity. When we place unrealistic expectations upon our goodness — goodness that we pressure ourselves to generate from within and not rely upon God to give and nurture — then we will be disappointed.

It is better to acknowledge the difficulty of the forgiveness process to God and ask Him to help us with it, then plow ahead and slap ourselves because we don’t feel loving and kind.

It’s Slow

2) Forgiveness isn’t quick.

Galatians 6:1 tells us,

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”

It takes time for a person repenting of a sin to change; and it takes time for the person against whom he has sinned to work through the matter. The process of “restoring someone gently” is just that — a process — and it may take days, weeks, and sometimes years to finish it.

Sophie and Rose inspirational original oil painting of young woman and child hanging up clothes outside seaside Victorian home by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, amazon.com, art.com, Framed Canvas Art and iCanvasART

Forgiveness is an essential part of any healthy relationship — if there are two people, forgiveness, at some time, will be called upon. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, Art.com, Amazon.com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART.

There are people in all our lives who did damage years ago — damage so significant that it caused scars — and the wound repairs slowly, but it does have the potential to repair. Forgiveness is the act of not picking at the scab.

It’s Complicated

3) Forgiveness is not always accompanied by positive, glowing feelings.

“Do not hate your brother in your heart,” Leviticus 19:17 commands. “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so that you will not share in his guilt.”

When someone hurts us, there’s nothing wrong with standing up and telling them so (this is honesty; not bitterness). Afterwards, part of the process of forgiveness is releasing the angry feelings — which are often entirely justifiable — so that we don’t become ugly and foul within our soul.

It’s important to note that there is a distinct difference between absence of negative feelings and the presence of positive ones — success with Part A does not ensure instant success with Part B, and indeed, with some people, the best way we can love them is to consciously agree to not hate them.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

It’s Ongoing

4) Forgiveness is a process, not a one-time thing.

The apostle Peter, always one of my favorites because he’s so refreshingly honest, once asked Jesus:

“‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.'” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Obviously, Peter thought that seven times was fairly generous, but Jesus – whose ways are not our ways, as anyone who has read through the Sermon on the Mount begins to realize — has a different idea.

While this passage implies that we are forgiving multiple sins from the same person, forgiving seventy-seven times may also mean that we are returning to the forgiveness of the same initial sin, multiple times, because we just can’t give up our feelings of bitterness toward this person.

Many, many years ago, there was a person in my life who was exceptionally difficult to forgive, but after a significant amount of time, I consciously chose to do so, and told the person this in conversation. However, thoughts of this person continued to annoy me, and I repeatedly stood before God, requesting help with these feelings. One day, to my surprise, when I thought of this person I found that they no longer bothered me, and while I’ll probably never put them on the list for my next birthday party, I can hear their name without rancor.

For me, that’s progress.

It’s Possible

5) Forgiveness takes practice, and we get lots of it.

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) revolves around a father whose love for his child is so strong, it eclipses the pain that his son caused. In our own lives, we are given family and friends who mean so much to us, we forgive because we know that holding in the grudge, and nursing the hate, will destroy the relationship.

The very feelings of love enable us to do something that intellectually seems impossible, and while it’s difficult to generate these feelings for strangers, the very act of forgiving our own shows us what it looks like, and makes it easier (but not easy!) to do with others to whom we are less close.

Ultimately, Christ is our example, and we forgive, because He first forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). As in all things where we seek to imitate God, we don’t do it on our own, but under His guidance, and patient teaching.

And, Thank God, He’s patient.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I haven’t begun to cover the topic in 5 easy points and 1,000 words, but, just like preliminary forgiveness, it’s a start!

Posts complementing this one are

Practical Christianity: 3 Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith

Are We Stuck with Our Bad Choices Forever?

When the Prodigal Son (or Daughter) Is Yours

 

Are We Being Manipulated? Let’s Just Say “No”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Like many others who struggled through algebra and its highbrow cousins in school and wondered how they would ever be useful in my life, I have successfully lived that life without advanced mathematics.

Girl in a Copper Dress 3 inspirational original oil painting of woman stretching by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, great big canvas, and framed canvas art

Walking away, with aplomb, is a good technique, one that we can use around people who seek to manipulate us. Girl in a Copper Dress, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, and Art.com.

Not that it was totally useless — aside from being a mind-stretching exercise (although Logic would have been more useful) — higher math’s primary impact on my life was to teach me one salient fact:

Without sufficient information, we cannot come to accurate conclusions. I’m glad that somebody knows how to figure out how much water will will be in left in a 100-gallon-tank — after 3 hours — which is losing 8 ounces of liquid per minute through a little hole in the bottom, while gaining 6.75 ounces in the same period of time. I don’t.

What I do know, however, is that without enough information, and the right information, even the finest mathematician cannot figure out the answer.

Struggling through Life

This concept is not limited to the classroom, but rather, follows us throughout life. Imperfect beings, limited by time, space, and our own bodies, we try to figure out what is going on around us, and in our lives, by the limited facts we have available.

Quite often, we succeed — when a knock comes at the door, it’s 98 percent certain that there is a human being standing on the other side, and if we’re expecting a package at 11 a.m. and it’s 11:01 we finesse our judgment further — but just as often, we’re wrong. It could be someone selling cookies. Part A was right, Part B was not.

After delicately extricating ourselves from purchasing an overpriced product, funding an establishment we don’t support, without hurting the innocent child the corporation sent out to do their work, we might ruminate on how the conclusion we came to — while reasonable and supported by the facts — was wrong.

My Third Cup of Tea

This morning, at breakfast, my husband the Norwegian Artist poured me a third cup of tea.

“Will you pass the cream, please?”

Without a word, he left the table.

One natural and logical conclusion to this information is that we got in a fight, and it’s the first one that many minds would jump to (“Man Storms Off in a Fury!”). However, when I add a couple small, seemingly insignificant details:

“Without a word, he picked up the creamer, left the table, and got the milk out of the refrigerator,”

then marital bliss is restored.

When we don’t have all the facts, it is simply impossible to consistently and accurately arrive at the truth. A favorite literary and story-telling technique involves two separate camps, each with the same information, but totally opposite interpretations of what that information means. Georgette Heyer wrote fine romances along this line; Steve Martin’s 1999 film, Bowfinger, follows a low-budget movie maker, unable to sign on a famous star, who sets up situations in which to film the actor without his consent, or understanding. As the audience In The Know, we laugh as the movie star freaks out.

But in real life, we are not the audience In The Know — we are ordinary human beings, trying to make sense of things with what we are given.

Unscrupulous Manipulators

This is an excellent time to emphasize that people who want to control, direct, influence, and manipulate others have absolutely no scruples about giving us some of the information, but not all, as a means of directing us into drawing their intended conclusions. For this reason, it is wise to be wary: what we are not told — by the news anchors, the politicians, the corporations, the advertisers, the “experts” — is just as important to the truth as what we are told.

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of girl and woman on beach reading book by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, Framed canvas art, Great Big Canvas, and iCanvasART

Before we wholeheartedly give our trust to someone, we want to make sure that that someone is trustworthy. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, Art.com, Amazon.com, and iCanvasART.

Knowledge is power, we all like to say, but the thing about power, is that the people who crave it aren’t the most trustworthy people to rely upon for knowledge.

There is one trustworthy person who has the added advantage of knowing everything — and this is God. Ironically, He is one of the first people we blame when things go wrong, and many of us — even those who have been Christians for a long time and really should know better — instantly jump to the conclusion that He is toying with us, playing with us, manipulating us, pushing us into a situation that we resist — all techniques well-used by evil human beings, but not an all-perfect God.

When we turn off the evening news in a panic because of what we’ve just heard, we rail at God, “Why don’t you DO something? Why do you let this happen?” without first asking ourselves, “Wait a minute — what exactly is happening? And why?

“I know what I’ve just been told, and the result is that I feel fearful, helpless, and angry at a particular group of people — but have I been given enough information to accurately figure out how much water will be left in that 100-gallon tank?”

Someone Worth Believing

In our personal lives, when everything things falls apart and the doctor’s face is grave, or there isn’t enough in the bank account to cover the electric bill, or our job is being pushed to the side so that an ambitious colleague can innocently take it over, it’s easy to piece together the available facts and come to the conclusion,

“My life is toast. I have no future. I have no hope.”

Actually, what we don’t have, is all the facts.

What we do have, is access to the One who does. And He loves us, and He watches over us, and He tells us this:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. 

“I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.

He’s worth believing.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage all God’s people to be the first ones to ask questions, and to keep asking them until they find true answers.

Posts complementing this one are

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Why Do We Follow Celebrity Christians?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I have spent a goodly portion of my life working past, and through, an impatient, calloused, uncaring, indifferent, and unlikable God, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only spiritual seeker with this issue. The Querulous God is regularly taught through inane one-liners such as,

Expose inspirational original oil painting of ocean beach by Steve Henderson

The path that Christ leads us on is far different than the one human beings prod us to follow. Expose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

“You must have a strong enough faith before God will listen to you,”

or

“God is getting you out of your comfort zone,”

or

“This pain in your life is inflicted by God, because He loves you so much that He wants you to turn to Him.”

So it was with extreme irritation that I read, the other day, an “inspirational message” by the adult child of a well-known Christian Celebrity Figurehead. Like many adult children of famous people, this person has landed in a sweet spot, with books being published, speaking engagements filled, and a “ministry” corporation funded largely on the basis of the parent’s famous name and pocketbook.

Not a Family Dynasty

It’s as if Christianity runs in the family, kind of like royal blood, or inherited money. (If you believe that, follow the line of King David and see how quickly it degenerates.)

Back to the “inspirational message” which, in addition to being depressing by corroborating the misconception that God’s ways are so at variance with, and unsympathetic to, our deepest yearnings of the soul, was also theologically “off,” stretching Scripture to the point that the verse must have pulled a tendon in the process.

How do I know? What right do I have to critique?

Well, I strive to be a Berean, a people described in Acts 17:11 as being “of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

This is something all Christians are called to be, but we forget this in a society that relies upon experts, teachers, leaders, politicos, economists, scientists, seminar speakers, and pastors to tell us what we believe, and why. So cowed are we by credentials, that when we don’t have them, we readily acquiesce to the one who does — even when we don’t agree with him. He must be right, because he has a PhD.

“Americans are the only people in the world known to me whose status anxiety prompts them to advertise their college and university affiliations in the rear window of their automobiles,” observed Paul Fussell, a 20th-century historian and author whom I discovered in the phone book yellow pages (the quotes and jokes interspersed throughout make the price of the book worth it).

Falling for Man’s Accolades

He’s right, you know, but if we limited our insecurity to institutional degrees, this would fortunately limit our foolishness as well. But as Christians, we lavish our attention, deference, allegiance, and all too often, money, on people who accept it on no more basis than that they speak well, look good before the camera, are amply funded to be put there, and too frequently, adroitly ply the name and connections of their literal fathers (the teachings of whom we unquestioningly accept as well) to command our subjection to their position.

Rumination inspirational original watercolor of cows chewing cud in meadow by Steve Henderson

It’s meat we need, to grow as Christians, moving beyond milk. Rumination, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold.

The Apostle Paul, who on more than one occasion expressed frustration with immature believers’ tendency to follow without discretion, says in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4:

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

“For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.”

The problem is, we’re a long away from the preaching of Paul, and from the beginning, many of us are preached a Jesus different from the one he preached: we labor to please a detached, disinterested Jesus, who will offer His love, conditionally, as long as we prove our own love to Him first.

More than one believer, however, has bowed before Christ because of the initial message that is thrown out, but quickly pulled back:

The True Gospel Message

“God is real. God is all powerful. And God loves you.”

Now that’s a message worth following, and it more closely aligns with what we find in the Gospels and the apostles’ writings. The problem is, once we believe it (who wouldn’t long for this?), we’re plugged into a system that starts adding rules:

Go to church. Give your tithes. Attend small groups. Read your Bible — under supervision. Obey those in authority over you.

Love, acceptance, grace, mercy, and peace quickly flee from this environment. But the ones who should flee are us, from the rules of man into the arms of God, but we don’t because the prominent voices — many of them the self-appointed spokespeople for Christianity (they’re easy to spot: they meet with world leaders, genuflect before the Pope, and tickle our ears with the things we want to hear — 2 Timothy 4:3) — have grabbed onto our spirituality, and our souls.

This would not happen if Christians made it a goal to read, and understand, the Bible for themselves, so that, instead of needing someone, constantly, to teach them elementary truths long after they should be teachers themselves (Hebrews 5:12), they would be using their teeth, and chewing:

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14)

Wean yourself off of pop-culture Christianity, simplistic (and frequently Spiritually fallacious) material and messages that do not drive you directly into the Bible, where the ultimate truth lies. You don’t need a human being to decode the Bible for you, you need a strong, firm relationship with the One the Book is written about.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I am constantly encouraging individual Christians to strengthen their walk with Christ, and get on a spiritual Paleo diet consisting of a lot of meat.

Posts complementing this one are

The Purposeless Driven Life

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Anxious and Troubled about Many Things

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-41 is a familiar one to many, especially women. The other day, I even ran across the term, “Martha Syndrome,” which I’m sure I have, because of a pronounced tendency (according to every single member of my immediate, and a significant percentage of my distant, family) to be “anxious and troubled about many things.”

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer

Mary listened; Martha fussed. As Christians, we do both, throughout out lives. Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer.

That’s how the English Standard Bible quotes Jesus’s words; other translations use synonyms like “worried,” “bothered,” “distressed,” “distracted,” “upset,” and “disquieted.”  The God’s Word translation uses the word, “fuss,” which brings to mind Lucy from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoon.

Here’s a reminder of the story:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.

“She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

“‘Martha, Martha,’ The lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'”

People Need to Eat

Quiet honestly, I’ve always sympathized with Martha. As the mother of a large family, I know what people are like when they haven’t eaten for awhile, and I also know that food doesn’t prepare itself by itself. Martha had a household to take care of, and Mary wasn’t doing anything — tangible — to help.

So Martha isn’t a bad person — she is a socially adept hostess who knows the duties that are expected of her, and she performs them.

Mary, on the other hand, is not a lazy person (really, other-people-like-me, she isn’t). While there’s a tendency to think of Mary as a daydreaming mystic, it’s highly likely that she, like Martha, knew the social duties demanded of her, but made a conscious, intelligent choice to put them aside in exchange for something more worthwhile:

Sitting, at Christ’s feet, and listening to Him speak.

It’s easy to say, in hindsight, that if we were given the opportunity today to do the same, we would drop everything and follow Mary’s example, but would we? Would we really?

Because do we? Do we now?

It’s Not Doing; It’s Being

I don’t mean getting up at 4 a.m. for Quiet Time or attending weekly small group studies at the church. I don’t even mean reading the Bible on a regular basis, although this is an excellent option we have available to us to access Christ’s words.

Dancer inspirational original oil painting of woman in red on abstract background by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at iCanvasART, Amazon.com, Art.com, and Framed Canvas Art

When we release our worries and focus our thoughts on Christ, our dance is one of joy and beauty. Dancer, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, Art. com, and iCanvasART.

I mean, like Mary, walking away from the things that distract us, and choosing what is better.

So what, exactly, did Mary choose that was better?

Like many of Christ’s pronouncements, this isn’t made concretely clear, as in, “Mary has chosen me, Jesus, over the worries of the world,” and while this is the standard, obvious, and frankly sensible way we generally interpret this verse, it’s worth pursuing beyond the Sunday sermon.

My handy Greek lexicon tells me that the word “which,” in verse 42 — “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Revised Standard Version) can also be translated as “Who.” This is in line with what Jesus, and the context of the story, appear to be saying:

Mary is sitting at Christ’s feet, as opposed to running around doing things.

There’s nothing wrong with doing things — indeed, if we didn’t do things, then nothing would get done. (How’s that for a profound statement?)

But in doing things, we get busy, distracted, anxious, fussy, worried, and distressed, because as anyone who has ever washed a dish or tossed a pair of underwear in the laundry knows, there is no end to doing things. And there is no end of things to worry about.

Life — and its problems — never end.

When Worrying Is How We Think

I know a beautiful young woman who was extremely nervous about a test she needed to take to keep her job. She studied for it, practiced for it, and spent a significant amount of time worrying about it — I mean, what would happen if she didn’t pass?

She would lose her job.

And what would happen if she lost her job?

I’m sure you can keep going on this just as well as I can, as you’ve no doubt had adequate practice with the process.

Well, the happy ending of the story is that she passed — phenomenally. That evening she called and told me,

“I’m so relieved. So very very relieved. I almost don’t know how to think, because worrying about this has filled my brain for so long. And I have nothing to worry about anymore.

“At least for now.”

There it is — the Martha Syndrome. Sure enough, several days later, she had amassed a new set of worries — actually, they were old worries, ones that had receded to the shadows while the test took prominence. While for one brief evening she had mental respite and a sense of thankfulness, it didn’t last, because worrying is the way she thinks.

And it is the way that all of us can think, “worried and upset about many things” when we would be so much calmer, and happier, by choosing what is better that will not be taken away from us.

Jesus is our Comforter, our Counselor, our Teacher, our Savior, our Master, our King, our Messiah. He is the Prince of Peace who gives that peace not as the world gives (John 14:27), and He wants us to not be troubled, afraid, anxious, and distressed.

Focus your thoughts on Him. Seek to know more about Him. Give Him your worries and exchange them for meditation on His goodness, His mercy, His grace, His outstandingly abounding love for you — you, my child — whom He treasures, protects, cherishes, and holds.

Make a conscious decision, daily, to choose — and think about — what, and Who, is better.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I worry a whole lot less than I used to — really, Family of Mine.

One thing I have learned is this: if you’re a worrier, don’t add to your woes by slapping yourself in the face and saying, “Worry is a sin!” and if someone else says that to you, well, it’s wise not to slap their face physically. But stomp on their words.

Posts complementing this one are

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Despicable You? No, Not True

When You Can’t Take It Anymore

 

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