Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Money

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The sky, water, sunlight, stars, clouds, the breeze on our face — these are free gifts that God has put on this earth for all to enjoy. Crystalline Waters, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Christians aren’t supposed to freak out about money. Of course, Christians aren’t supposed to freak out about a lot of things, and we do, but there’s a difference between following what humans advise, and following God.

If you listen to humans, it’s no wonder that Christians freak out about money, because we’re taught some really stupid things. Let’s look at three of these misconceptions, and see if we can get rid ourselves of a spirit of fear and timidity, and focus on power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1: 7):

Lack of Money/Lack of Faith

1) We’re told that, if we don’t have enough money, it’s our fault, a direct result of our lack of faith. Prosperity preachers, who advocate speaking and thinking control words (declare, claim,  release, empower, impact, speak into existence, believe) emphasize this presumptive link between spirituality and wealth, conveniently overlooking Scriptures like, “You cannot serve both God and Money,” (Matthew 6: 24),  or “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith,” (1 Timothy 6: 10). Be aware that their pervasive message isn’t limited to the books, TV shows, and Mega-Metro-Churches, but like a leak in the bathroom sink, puddles itself at our feet. Wipe those feet before you enter church next Sunday.

Prosperity Preaching Is Insidious

2) Under the guise of “sound financial practices,” prosperity is preached, distilled, to the flock. Back when we attended controlled, weekly, corporate church activities, we were in the one percent of families who chose not to put down the cash, get the workbooks, and attend the video seminars of the Christian Money Guru of the Day.

People oohed and ahed at the wisdom: “Cut up our credit cards! Make a budget plan! Do exactly what we’re told! and next week, we’ll talk about mutual funds!”

Without spiritual freedom, you’ll never find financial freedom, no matter how much money you have. Spirit of the Canyon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

What they gabbled on about sounded remarkably like the hash we used to receive from secular, corporate financial houses (the ones that tell you to put this percentage aside for retirement, that percent for your child’s education, without acknowledging, at all, that you may make so little that food, rent, and mandatory property taxes are your major priorities). The person who benefits most from classes by the Christian Money Guru of the Day is . . . the Christian Money Guru of the Day.

He (or She) is hip, he’s smart, he’s savvy and he’s rich, but he’s not connected, at all, to the lives of the very little people. And yet the little people, who make him rich, follow his advice because they want to be rich, like him. They need to start writing books and selling video seminars.

The Promises Aren’t about Money

3) If you write a check to the church or a charity for $10, there is no Biblical promise that you will receive $100, $1,000, or $10,000 back.  Luke 6: 38 is frequently quoted – “Give and it will be given to you” – as the carrot encouraging us to donate. Likewise Mark 10: 29 – 30:

“. . . no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age.”

As always, read the rest: “(homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields — and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.”

Money, specifically, isn’t mentioned — although family predominates, which should say something about life’s priorities. Also, did you catch the word “persecutions” slipped in there? And dang, what does that last sentence mean?

Food, Water, Clothing

When the Norwegian Artist and I were in our dumb twenties, we lived for a year in the broom closet of a very poor, but very-close-to-Christ, Colombian couple. The experience grounded us, early, in the awareness that most of the world does not automatically expect potable water, three solid meals a day, central heating, or one car per person, as inalienable rights. And many of these people, who don’t have any of those things, are our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We returned to an America where far too many Christian families expected not only all of the above, but an array of electronic gadgets, the Caribbean cruise to celebrate the tenth year wedding anniversary, and retirement at 55 with a generous pension. ”We’re blessed,” people told us, “because of our faith.”

“Without the goodies,” we wondered, “would you still have the faith?”

Our goal in life is not to become materially wealthy: “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” (1 Timothy 6: 7-8)

Give thanks for what you have, and trust God for your needs. And when you find yourself with more than what you need, think of 1 John 3: 17:

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, I didn’t used to believe that all the wisdom you need can be found in Scripture, but as I find myself assaulted — daily — by bad information, misinformation, and disinformation from the news media, the entertainment industry, and the religious industrial complex — I seek solace and truth in His words, that will never pass away (Matthew 24: 35).

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Despicable You? No, Not True.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Quiet, thoughtful, meditative — those are Mary qualities, we say. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Are you a Mary? Or a Martha?

Actually, it’s a dumb question, especially if you’re male, but if you’re female and you’re in an emotionally charged women’s Bible study focusing on your inhibitions and failures, doubts, anxieties, insecurities, and foibles, you might have to answer this question in a group.

If you don’t want to, that’s fine with me. Personally, I’m not a Mary or a Martha, I’m a Carolyn — a very specific Carolyn — and I really don’t like being categorized or compartmentalized or slotted into little holes. These means that I don’t fit well in groups, but you knew that anyway.

Mary and Martha

In  the Bible, Mary and Martha were two sisters who were noted for 1) being very different from one another and 2) living with their brother Lazarus, who spent a few days in a tomb, dead, before he was called back to life by Jesus.  Jesus spent a significant amount of time with the family, and one gets the idea that they were dear friends.

In this article, we’re going to talk about point number 1 — the differences between Mary and Martha — and what that means for you. Because these two women were, well, women, they are frequently trotted out to half the population of the planet as object lessons, and the object of the lesson is this:

In Luke 10: 38-42, we are told that Martha invited Jesus and His disciples into her home, and while she was busy bustling about doing . . . bustling-about things, her sister Mary was decidedly not helping, because she was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening.

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparation 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 Has a Point, You Know

Now as the mother of a decent-sized brood, I’m fully in agreement with Martha, and I always thought that Mary could have gotten off her little patootie and helped, that is, if anyone were interested in eating, but Jesus replied:

“‘Martha, Martha . . . 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.’”

The same person who can be quiet and meditative one moment, can be outspoken and expressive — Martha-esque — the next. Aphrodite, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I’m glad that they were ordering take-out.

And yes, I do know that the point driven in is that we need to slow down, quit fussing, don’t stress, and focus on Jesus, not the exigencies of life, but I also know this:

Mary is not “better” than Martha, and if you have a tendency to look, and act, like Martha, you are not “inferior” to the Mary’s in your life. John 11: 3, which records the raising of Lazarus, says,

“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

What’s most striking about this verse is that Mary isn’t even named, but Martha is. This doesn’t at all mean that Jesus discounts the worth of Mary, but it does imply something about Martha’s worth in Jesus’ eyes:

Jesus. Loved. Martha.

With all her anxiety, fussing, bustling, and distraction: Jesus. Loved. Martha.

“Where WERE You?”

Subsequent verses to this story show Martha heading out to meet Jesus directly (while Mary stayed at home), and telling Him,

“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11: 21)

Eleven verses later, Mary says exactly the same thing.

When we get down to what really matters — losing a dearly beloved person in life – the two sisters were in complete agreement: they hurt, and they wondered why the One Person who could have prevented the whole thing, didn’t.

Are you Mary — sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening? Or are you Martha — striding out to meet Him, blurting out, “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask,” (John 11: 22), a statement of faith that is as profound and wise as Mary’s attitude of listening and learning.

You’re not Mary, and you’re not Martha, my friend — you’re you, a complex soup of emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. God knows your name, He knows what makes you tick, and He. Loves. You.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I want you, my friend, to grow closer and closer to the real Christ, not the substitute that we frequently put up with, simply because that’s what we’re taught. He’s real, He’s caring, He’s compassionate, and He won’t consign you to hell if you swear at the cat. He knows you mess up — that’s why you need Him so much.

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The Work You Do for God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The work you do for God will be uniquely suited to your gifts, abilities, and temperament. The Trainmaster, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

You don’t have to be a Christian for very long before you start hearing the word “personal ministry,” as in, your personal ministry. You’re supposed to have one, you know.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this concept; we all want to be useful, and Ephesians 2:10 assures us that,

“. . . we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ordinary People

As a singularly unassuming person who doesn’t promote a stir when I walk into the room, it’s nice to know that I have a reason for being here, a purpose to my existence, and the eye of the Almighty on me as I fumble through the day. In a world that extols celebrities in Every Single Solitary Arena of our Existence, I find comfort in knowing that I don’t have to be famous to be meaningful, Tweet-worthy to be relevant, important — in the world’s eyes — to be important in God’s.

Now among Christians, this shouldn’t be an issue, because we follow the Man who said:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever want to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10: 42-44)

Finding Your Ministry

The problem arises when we send people to 1 Corinthians 12, or Romans 12: 3-8, and tell them to look for their personal ministry there, conveniently skipping past Romans verse 3,

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

and focusing on the gifts:

Prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, and showing mercy.

Human nature sifts through this list and picks out the “best” ones: Prophesying (which is a difficult one to fake, because if you’re not accurate, you’re not a prophet, but this doesn’t stop people from putting themselves on pedestals), teaching, and leading – the three gifts that have the potential to extol and enrich far more than serving (how humble, and humiliating), encouraging (the leaders, naturally), contributing (this one’s universal — all sheep are expected to offer their wool to the self-appointed shepherd of their flock), and showing mercy.

Way Too Many Leaders — in the Way

If I sound cynical, it’s because I see a lot of people announcing that they are leaders and teachers with a corresponding unwillingness to listen to the people “under” them, and a pronounced lack of skill in operating as a servant, or slave to all. “All of the leadership positions in this community are taken,” the rest of the sheep are told, “but there are many openings for serving and giving. This is where your ministry lies.”

Experienced gardeners know that even dandelions have a purpose, driving their roots down into clay soil and aerating the ground. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I know a young adult who, in younger years, was forcibly placed in foster care, and no authoritarian figure, theoretically set there for the child’s benefit, listened to what the child said. Instead, this person was told,

“You need to respect the leaders and authorities in your life.”

“I was taught to respect people in authority,” the child retorted, “but I was also taught to determine whether or not they deserved to be there. You don’t. You need to earn respect before you demand it.”

Wise words from a tween. It’s along the lines of not thinking of yourself more than you ought, a pitfall for all of us.

The Work We Do for God

So what is your work for God? Most of us can readily identify our inability to prophesy, work miracles, heal the sick, speak — authentically — in tongues. Apostle positions are rare, and they appear to have been taken up by a finite number of qualified persons no longer with us. So the more confident, and blatant, announce that they are teachers or administrators, whether or not they actually are. It’s not so much whether they are qualified as that they are assertive, and they remain where they are because we allow them to do so.

But there is one thing that every single believer can, and should do, because Jesus Himself called us to it:

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6: 29)

Believing Jesus, trusting His words, relying upon His goodness, accepting His mercy, resting in His arms — these are not easy things to do, and anyone who blithely announces that they are, isn’t being particularly honest, with himself or others.

Stop worrying about your “personal ministry.” Quit agonizing over which gifts are yours. God has serious work for you to do — believing in the One He sent — and in the process of learning how to do it, you will minister to others richly, aptly, generously, and well.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to think twice where they give their allegiance, and make sure that their primary allegiance is always given first, foremost, and exclusively to Christ.

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5 “Sins” That Aren’t Sins

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Humans have a lamentable tendency of taking a simple concept, like Grace, and making it convoluted and burdensome. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Christians frequently talk about grace, love, acceptance, and freedom, and indeed, these attributes are abundantly available to the person who follows Christ.

Unfortunately, however, within Christian group settings (“community” is the latest buzzword), rules abound, all the more insidious because they are never identified as rules. A believer just gets this idea, sort of, that he doesn’t measure up, that Jesus is displeased with her, and they’re on God’s disciplinary list.

If you’ve felt this way, relax, rest, and stop listening to the murmurs in the room. There really is grace, love, acceptance, and freedom in Christ, and if you want to find it, start by crossing these five psuedo-sins off your list:

The Five Pseudo Sins

1) Skipping church. There is no commandment that we must attend weekly — or multiple-times weekly — meetings, although many people like to quote Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”

Arguably, the highly controlled, regimented functions that many people endure on Sunday mornings bear little resemblance to the early Christians meeting in the catacombs of Rome, and increasingly, more and more people are wondering why they attend what they do.

Even if you do enjoy your church experience (and through the years, we have found quirky, fun enclaves of people who give meaning to the words, “meet together”), you are not sinning if you opt to sleep in, partake of a leisurely breakfast, swing in the hammock, close your eyes, and pray.

The bonus is, if there are other people in your home, you are “meeting together” with them, something you may not do if your day is filled with song service practice, leadership meetings, small group encounters, and visitations.

Playing Truant?

2) Not participating in Sunday School. Sunday School, which in some circles is more compulsory than church attendance, began in the late 18th century as a literal school for working class children, who during the Industrial Revolution worked 12-hour days Monday through Saturday, and thereby had no opportunity to learn to read, write, or educate themselves beyond serfdom.

This worthy endeavor morphed into what we experience today, a segregation of ages and demographics — young marrieds here, 6th graders there, retired persons in the front foyer, children in the basement — that adds another hour of community obligation to the day of rest.

If you like it, and you’re learning from Sunday School, then participate with joy. If you’re not interested, then don’t feel like a pariah.

Not all beautiful days are sunny, and not all truth is cloaked in positive terms. Autumn Sail, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

3) Thinking, or speaking, a negative thought. Scripture is filled with negative statements: “The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6: 23); “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” (Matthew 10: 35); “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16. 33).

Just because a statement, or a thought, is negative does not mean that it is bad, and negative or positive statements — in and of themselves — do not have an innate power to influence outcomes. Believing that they do is a cornerstone of occult thought, teaching that esoteric symbolism, numerology, and energy auras are given a power that belongs to God alone.

Pressure from Leadership

4) Just saying, “No.” There are a lot of great ministries out there, but that does not mean that you are obligated to participate in them. Saying no is especially difficult when a pastor or church leader asks you to say yes, because there is the added invocation to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority,” (Hebrews 13: 17), a verse that is trotted out as regularly as the “forsake not assembling” command.

But Bible verses are not meant to be slung about like arrows, manipulating people into doing what they do not want to do, and the same Book includes the verse, “We must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5: 29).

You have specific gifts and passions, along with limitations on your time, energy, and financial resources: obey God, rather than men, in how you will use them.

5) Disagreeing with your pastor (or other leader): the Bereans of the Apostle Paul’s day were considered 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.” (Acts 17: 11)

Paul was self-confident enough in himself and in Christ to be unoffended by this practice, and the leaders in your church should be as well. If a lesson or lecture seems specious or unsound (the semi-annual “good stewards should tithe thusly” sermons come to mind), then get out that Bible and start reading.

Better yet, make sure that you’re reading Scripture – at home and on your own — on a regular basis so that by holding to His teaching, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8: 31).

Grace, love, acceptance, and freedom are more than words or idle promises: they are truths that we can experience in our Christian walk. Let’s start taking them seriously.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage believers and seekers to demand the real thing, not substitutes. Too often, however, the substitutes are cloaked in a manner that seems more intellectual, “spiritual,” or cool, and we can waste a lot of time on man made products, as opposed to God’s true grace.

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