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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Are We Making Asses of Ourselves?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:9)

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “The Perfect Will of God.”

As used within Christian circles, it sounds like it’s written, with capitals at the head of each word. Generally, it’s uttered with a sense of fear — not the reverent kind — because the primary impression is that if we don’t do things exactly right, if we don’t hear and obey God’s every personalized word (which aren’t audible to the majority to us, incidentally; nor does He write Post-It notes and leave them on our refrigerator door), then we will miss this Perfect Will of God for our lives and will Mess Up.

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Three Horses inspirational original oil painting of horses in mountain meadow by Steve Henderson

We are human beings, children of God, and we can learn from His voice in a way that an animal never can. Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

And God will be angry with us — as He frequently is in 21st century conventional establishment Christianity. As punishment for our not following His words that we begged to hear but couldn’t quite catch, He’ll not bother with us, or turn His back on us, or leave us to struggle through the ramifications of our lamentable decisions.

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The general result, for many Christians facing a decision — big or little — is that they don’t do anything at all, because, they reason, it’s better to make no decision than the wrong one.

We all have known more than one Christian who has agonized between A? or B? or B? or A? prostrating themselves on the floor in tormented prayer begging God to speak to them, please, and let them know which way to go. This perversity on the part of their god is inexcusable in light of Christ’s encouragement in Matthew 7:7-12 that we ask, seek, and knock and we will receive, find, and have the door opened to us:

Bad Parenting

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Christ asks rhetorically. “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

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Or if he asks a question, fervently and anxiously, will pretend to not hear him at all? Such is the behavior we attribute to God — who is justified in doing so, we say, because He is chronically offended by us — but this attitude is at variance with Christ’s conclusion,

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

The Blue Poncho inspirational original oil painting of girl and baby goat by Steve Henderson

Our good shepherd does not leave us to wander around fields alone, without His guidance. The Blue Poncho, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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The quote at the head of this chapter is from the 32nd Psalm by David, who begins the work with the ringing praise,

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

One wonders how many Christians would feel free to stand up and say, “I’m that man! (or woman) God does not count my sins against me!”

Accepting God’s Acceptance

It’s a promise we have difficulty believing, especially because we have a lamentable habit — as humans — of not being perfect, something that we hold against ourselves but God does not, any more than we reject a three-year-old for being too selfish to purchase for us a birthday present.

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When we hyper-focus on The Perfect Will of God, a concept that is not found, in the Bible, the way we misapply it (nope, not Romans 12:2 — read the verse, and the one before it along with a few after it, without the prescriptive attitude concerning TPWoG), then we are frozen into inaction, dependent upon step-by-step, moment by moment directions, for everything we say and do.

In short, we are asking to be like a horse or mule, unable to think for ourselves based upon information we are given, choosing, instead, to let God do all the thinking without any input on our part. It reminds me of the Hebrew people in the desert during the Exodus, when they saw and heard God’s might on the mountain and they trembled in fear:

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“They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'” (Exodus 20:19)

Looking Anywhere but Toward God

Lamentably, we can have much the same attitude today, when we look to our pastor to interpret Scripture for us, or follow an author’s every piece of advice because he “speaks for God,” or worship, literally worship, another human being because of his “godliness.” It’s much easier to look to someone else, more “in tune with God,” to lead us than it is for us to turn directly to our Father Himself, and trust that, in His guidance of us, He takes into account our frailty.

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“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” This verse of comfort is the one prior to the horse sentence, and it is an assurance that,

1) God won’t abandon us to depend upon our own limited ability to understand, because He does and will teach us,

but

2) In His teaching of us, the goal is that we learn, and in learning, we are able to participate more fully in the decision-making process. Every first-grade teacher has the goal that his or her students will take the alphabet and the phonics and eventually turn them into reading, and only a very bad, impatient, and insecure teacher would punish a budding reader for messing up on a word.

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God is far and away the best first grade, high school, and post collegiate teacher any of us could ever dream of having. And He isn’t teaching horses.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. One of the most damaging misconceptions we battle as Christians today is the concept that God really does not like us, and is constantly finding fault with everything we think or do. That’s pretty lousy parenting.

Posts complementing this one are

Contemporary Corporate Christianity

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Three Things God Wants Us to DO

What Chickens Teach Us about God

 

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Please, Think Twice about Passing out the Bible Tract

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

I ran across a bawdy joke the other day that is definitely not the thing one shares with acquaintances or distant relatives.

Provincial Afternoon inspirational original oil painting of two girls in meadow reading by Steve Henderson

The message of Christ is so beautiful that it is worth taking time to present it — verbally or on paper — in a manner that people can grasp, reach out to, and understand. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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But it was too good to keep to myself, so I passed it on at the dining table, around (adult) children and spouse, who appreciated it, and the spirit in which it was given. Nobody was shocked, and we all moved on, seamlessly, to dessert and, afterwards, the dishes.

It goes without saying that there’s no need to write the joke down here, since this is not the appropriate venue for it, and while it didn’t offend my family, it would definitely offend some (not all) of my readers. In others words, there is a right place and time to say certain things to certain people, but in alternative places, at different times, and with other people, one tells a different joke, or no joke at all.

Right Place, Right Time, Right Words

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The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, discusses how he adjusts his message — the gospel of Christ — so that those hearing it will best be able to receive it:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

Ending the Day on a Good Note inspirational original oil painting of 1940s nostalgic woman in victorian home listening to victrola by Steve Henderson

In the same way we do not all listen to the same music, read the same books, or eat the same food, we do not respond the same to a one-size-fits-all message. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.

“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.”

As a friend explained recently, it’s not so much what we say, as how we say it — and no matter how valuable the message, if we give it in a manner offensive, confusing, incomprehensible, or unintelligible to the listener, then the meaning of our words does not get through.

An Insistent, and Irritating, Christian

I am reminded of my college days, when I was exploring the concept of Christ, whom I had vaguely heard of through my childhood but did not understand or know. An intensely fervent Christian figuratively pinned me to the wall and forcefully kept me there with his words:

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“You MUST accept Jesus Christ, or you will die in hell, burning there for eternity. He loves you and is calling you to be His.”

At that time (and to this day), I could not put sentence 1 and 2 together in any logical, reasonable, compassionate, or understandable manner, and I was resisting. Quite fortunately, the man eventually left, and another Christian, quietly listening in the background, came forward and said,

“Don’t let him pressure you. And don’t feel like you have to accept what he is saying. Keep focusing on God’s love, because that’s what is worth looking for.” He then proceeded to talk about other things. In the subsequent weeks, he was there — a safe person — to answer my questions, which he did so in a measured, reasonable fashion, and always with a willingness to admit he didn’t know something when he, well, didn’t know something.

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In the end, my conscious decision to become a Christian was strongly influenced by the behavior and words of the latter, thoughtful Christian, and if I had been limited to the words of the insistent dogmatist, I would have, like many seekers and searchers of truth and love, rejected the concept of Christianity.

This isn’t to say that the overbearing Christian wasn’t passionate and sincere in his beliefs, but he was extremely foolish in the manner in which he expressed them. Inattentive to body language, oblivious to conspicuous signs of distress in his listener, he plowed forward with his argument, using the same words he used with everyone he approached, whether or not they understood, grasped, or accepted them.

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Hardened Hearts, but Whose?

If they didn’t, his general response was to shrug his shoulders and say,

“Oh, well. Their hearts are hardened and they resist the Holy Spirit. I guess they’re just unredeemed, and unredeemable, sinners.”

This is not at all Paul’s attitude, and it is ludicrous to think that he would quote Jewish law to a Greek, or use Aristotelian arguments upon a Jew.

And yet, this is what many Christians insist upon doing when they quote Scripture to an atheist, or thrust a tract into the hand of a stranger, not even bothering to find out anything about the person receiving it. The general attitude, upon the part of the speaker, is — “I’ve done my part, and I’ve spoken the name of the Lord. Scripture will not be quoted in vain.”

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This is more superstition than reality, and if we asked ourselves, “What is my goal? To speak the words? Or to phrase them, and comport myself, in such a way that the person hearing my words will have a decent shot at understanding them?” we would adjust our parlance in accordance with the person and circumstances of our listener.

The first involves only opening our mouths, the second our hearts and minds.

Releasing ourselves from a one-size-fits-all approach allows us to moderate, and finesse our actions, freeing us to genuinely smile and say “Thank you,” to the person who just sold us our groceries instead of, “Jesus Loves You!” We agonize, because we didn’t use the word “Jesus,” or “God,” or “The Lord,” but in all honesty, if the person has been hurt by a hammerhanded approach to Christianity (and we don’t know this because we don’t know them), which option would get across the real message — the love of Christ — better?

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And isn’t that the message we’re trying to impart?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Posts complementing this one are

“Jesus Loves You!” Enough, Already

Do You Long for the Love Christianity Promises?

Grasping the Goodness of God

 

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“Foreigners” Are God’s Children, Too

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

As a Christian who does not have Jewish roots, I look at all the wonderful miracles God has done for His Hebrew people — parting the Red Sea comes immediately to mind — and am tempted to hang my head, thinking, “That’s not for me, because I’m not officially one of His people.”

Mesa Walk inspirational original oil painting of woman dancing in desert by steve henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

What is a foreigner, anyway? Someone who doesn’t dress like us, talk like us, believe like us? And is that such a bad thing? Mesa Walk, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art.

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For this reason, I love Isaiah chapter 56, firmly entrenched within the Old Testament, in which God says,

“Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people,” (verse 3), subsequently expounding that those of us who “bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him . . . these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.”  (verses 6-7)

It’s Not a Social Club

God’s family is not an exclusive club, and belonging to it does not require economic, cultural, racial, political, or educational qualifications. (This is an excellent thing for Christians of Gentile heritage — who were brought into the flock from another pasture [John 10:16] — to remember. There are still more sheep, in other pastures, who don’t look and act in accordance with the 21st conventional interpretation of Christianity, and we might think about extending the same grace to them that has been extended to us.)

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The passage at the top of this article from Ruth is a beautiful declaration of loyalty and love from a woman who would have been considered, within the Israelite culture during the dark time of Judges (“When everyone did as he saw fit,” Judges 17:6), to be a foreigner indeed — a heathen, a pagan, a much-detested Moabite who deserved no part or parcel with the promises given to the Hebrew nation.

That Ruth made such a statement to her mother-in-law, Naomi, after the latter, in Moab, lost her husband and sons (one of whom was Ruth’s husband), and was returning to her homeland of Israel, says a lot about, not Judaism, not the Hebrew people, not even God Himself, but about Naomi.

The Book about Naomi

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Although the book calls itself Ruth, it is as much a story about Naomi, who says, “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13, English Standard Version)

Into the Surf inspirational original oil painting of child and woman at ocean beach by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

Like Ruth followed Naomi, we follow, and imitate, Christ not because we are afraid of Him, but because He loves us, and we crave that love. Into the Surf, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, and vision art galleries.

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Suffice it to say, the relationship between Naomi and her daughters-in-law does not resemble the typical cynical interpretation of the tension between a mother-in-law and the wives of her sons. In addition to the pain Naomi feels on her own behalf, she bears added torment by the hurt that descends upon those in her care.

This is a woman who loved, and was worthy of being loved, and Ruth responded to that love by giving up her culture, her religion, her national identity, and her very self to follow Naomi to a strange land, one that was hostile to a Moabitess. But the love of Naomi, the guidance she gave Ruth, and Ruth’s willingness to follow and obey her mother-in-law’s words, led to a result that is comforting and beautiful to all God’s children, regardless of whether our heritage is Hebrew, or not:

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Ruth eventually married Boaz, a worthy and godly man who was a close kinsman to Naomi, and through this marriage, Ruth became the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s mightiest king, through whose line came Jesus, the greatest King, and brother, of all.

We’re Foreigners Too, You Know

Ruth — the foreigner, the outsider, the non-Jew, the Moabitess, the sheep from another pasture — is one of the great names in Biblical history, one of three women mentioned by name in Matthew’s genealogy. (The first was Tamar, who bore sons from an incestuous encounter instigated by her father-in-law Judah; the second was Rahab, a Canaanite whose name is unfortunately too often appended with, “the prostitute.” I find their inclusion less a lesson about sin, sin, sin, as about grace, mercy, acceptance, and God’s love for His children. These women are great not because of who they were, but Whom they belonged to.)

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Ruth’s statement of faith is essentially the one that all Christians are called upon to make to our Lord, Master, King, and beloved Brother, Christ. Like Ruth, we make this declaration in response to the love that we receive at His hands. If Naomi had been a foul person spewing deceitfulness and hate, there would have been no reason for Ruth to make the declaration she did, and indeed, it would have been foolish on Ruth’s part.

But Ruth’s actions were a result of love bestowed upon her, and she was able to keep those words because Naomi cared for, and cared about her. This is a good reminder, to all of us who are Christians, that this is why we sought out, turned to, and made a decision to follow Christ — not because He nitpicks at us for our endless indiscretions and mistakes — but because He loves us, unconditionally, His ratty, ragged people from another pasture, an outside culture, a heritage that includes a lot of juicy, salacious stories, some of them not as far back in history as we would like.

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But we are His, precious in His sight, beloved children who are no longer foreigners because we are His people, and where He goes, we go; and where He stays, we stay; His God is our God, and His Father is ours as well.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Within conventional Christianity, we talk about “love” a lot, but focus more on sin, convinced that God won’t get close to us until we get our lives together. That’s not how it goes, you know.

Posts complementing this one are

Two Reasons Why the World Hates Christians (the comment thread on this one is fascinating)

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Contemporary Corporate Christianity

Three Things God Wants Us to DO

 

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Contemporary Corporate Christianity

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

In contemporary establishment Christianity, many of the terms and concepts used are borrowed from the corporate world. For an ordinary worker bee, this means that on Sunday, as well as throughout the week, he is told to “take ownership of a project,” or “integrate with community,” obfuscated language that makes one grateful that the Bible wasn’t written today.

Crystalline Waters inspirational original oil painting of mountain alpine lake in the Wallowas of Oregon by Steve Henderson

The difference between corporate Christianity and the real thing mirrors the difference between a big city and a rural scene in the mountains. Crystalline Waters, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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Another favorite is “servant leader,” a business-seminar concept that is tailor-made for the church setting. After all, didn’t Jesus talk about being a servant all the time? And wasn’t He a leader?

This is all very true, but in contemporary religious leadership’s efforts to encourage ordinary people to be last of all and servant of all (Matthew 9:35), it is conveniently overlooked that this teaching applies to all of us, and that the context of this teaching lies in an argument among the disciples over who was the greatest.

“Servant-Leader,” quite frankly, is not a term one finds in the Bible, although “servant” appears copiously. “Leader,” “ruler,” “shepherd,” “teacher,” “authorities,” and similar terms in Scripture – while they represent positions that humans grasp and crave, come with heavy responsibilities — and are easily misused and misapplied, as Jesus points out in Matthew 20:25-28.

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Gentile Rulers

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for many.”

Interestingly, Jesus does not mention book deals, speaking engagements, meetings with the Pope, prayer breakfasts with the president of the United States, or membership in the World Council of Churches. These are not necessarily bad things, but when one looks at the lifestyles of the people heavily involved in the “leadership” aspect of the business of Christianity, it is difficult to identify the “servant” part.

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Which brings us back to Joshua, a mighty man of valor of the Old Testament, who, in his ringing speech to the Israelites in Joshua chapter 23, makes it very clear who his leader is, and what is his relationship to Him:

“And as for you,” Joshua tells the people and its leaders in verse 9, “no man has been able to stand before you to this day.”

Not, he does not add, because of Joshua’s incredible prowess as a military leader:

“One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is the Lord your god who fights for you, just as he promised you.”

Taking God for Granted

Joshua knows that Israel’s blessings, and its very ability to inhabit a land that was ruled by other, far more powerful armies, was due to God, and God alone, and that this blessing from above was not something to be taken lightly or for granted. To maintain it, ALL of God’s people needed to be under His leadership. Even within a nation, the actions of each individual were important.

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“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God,” Joshua continues in verse 11.

“For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you.”

Those of us who have read the rest of the story know that these words were true, and that in later years, the Hebrews demanded a king “like all the nations,” (Samuel 8:5), and increasingly, copied the religious, political, and social practices of the remnant of those nations around them.

So it is today, and throughout history, with us as Christians. It didn’t take long after Jesus ascended before we set up a hierarchy of authoritative leadership, overriding a spiritual relationship that is supposed to encourage a direct contact between each individual believer and His God.

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Copying Corporations

And while leaders, and shepherds, are not a bad thing, they are when they copy the culture of the Canaanites around them, which in the 21st century uses words like “intentional,” “living in the now,” “taking ownership of a project,” and “servant-leader.” Christianity is not supposed to copy the corporate world.

But it does.

That’s the bad news.

But the good news is in Joshua’s words, his command that the people “not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.” (Joshua 23:7)

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The lesson for us, steeped in a culture that assaults us with deception through its mass media and political and financial systems, is not that we leave and inhabit another planet, nor that we isolate ourselves within a Christian sub-culture (which is funded, and promoted, incidentally, by the non-Christian corporate world), but that we not copy the actions of those around us, and that our every action, thought, and word be done in light of truth, as opposed to a concern about fitting in, and getting our piece of the pie.

Christian leaders should look different, like Joshua. And whether or not they do, all of us are called to the same choice of whom, or what to serve, and whether or not we say, as Joshua did,

“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

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