Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Is God Calling You?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In our church days, when I sat in an interlocking chair, stared ahead at the big white screen, and sang words that flashed by, I used to wonder, vaguely, if God was calling me to do something, and I wasn’t hearing.

After all, the church had all sorts of ministry opportunities. Although many of them I was unqualified for because I hadn’t gone through the newly implemented Leadership Training Classes, there were many mundane options, like coordinating the Interlocking Chair Set Up and Take Down committee (which, for some reason, NOBODY wanted to be involved in).

Peruvian Fishermen inspirational oil painting of boats on beach by ocean sea by Steve Henderson

God called the disciples away from a lifestyle they knew and were comfortable with, but He still wanted them to fish. Peruvian Fisherman, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

But I wasn’t interested. Burnt out after years of a Wednesday night children’s program that never could figure out if it was teaching church kids or attracting unchurched ones, I continued to arrive, Sunday mornings, and sing the words in front of my face. I reminded myself that working hard, loving my family, and caring for the people strewn across my path were worthy things to do.

God Is Calling . . .

And then God forcefully and unmistakably called me. Actually, He called our entire family, and it involved, initially, a whole bunch of really bad circumstances that were extremely painful to go through. God didn’t cause this pain – but He was there, along with a very few others, to get us through.

Simultaneously, we found ourselves increasingly disengaged with our weekly church experience, and while some would say this is because of our stubbornness to not go along with the program and take those Leadership Training Classes, it’s actually because of those classes — and the change in climate and attitude in the congregation around us — that we eventually left.

We simply couldn’t fit into the new way of thinking, the new insistence upon doing things one rigid, corporate-driven, inflexible way, and one Sunday — it was Easter — it snapped. We realized that we were bored, vulnerable, tired of being pariahs, and finished with fitting in. We weren’t growing, we weren’t deepening our relationship with Christ, and we certainly weren’t interested in the limited options we were given to “serve” Him.

An Unusual Direction

“It’s unusual that God would call you out of a church situation,” someone once told me. “I’ve never heard of that before.”

Catching the Breeze inspirational original oil painting of woman walking on beach by ocean sea by Steve Henderson

Walking alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and without distractions, we see and experience more. Catching the Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Neither had we, which is one reason we fought to stay in for so long, compromising our beliefs, giving in where there was no reciprocity, convincing ourselves that a weekly touching of bases — in a highly controlled environment – was fellowship.

The book of Mark, Chapters 7 and 8, contains two incidences of Jesus healing, both of which involve, interestingly, spit, as well as leading the people to be healed . . .  out: Mark 7: 31-37 describes Jesus with a deaf man who could hardly talk, and,

“After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!’”)

“At this, the mans ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.”

In Mark 8: 22-26, Jesus “took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’

“He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’

“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened; his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t go into the village.’”

Out, and Away

In both cases, Jesus took the person to be healed aside: “away from the crowd,” or “outside the village.” The healing process was unusual, very hands on, and — I imagine — not particularly pleasant. But it was effective.

One man’s ears were opened  and he was able to speak plainly; another man received sight, in stages:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5)

As Christians, we tend to assume that the blind/deaf issue is permanently taken care of when we find Christ, and to some extent it is. But there is a very real misconception that, as long as we say we’re Christians and are attending church, that we see and hear, somehow, and that we are awake, but if this were so, there would be no reason for warnings like 1 Thessalonians 5:6:

“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,”

or Colossians 4:2:

“Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

It is easy to fall into complacency, mistaking busyness for service, repetition of words for prayer, meetings for fellowship, accepting someone else’s commentary for Bible study. The requirements are rigid but tempting to accept, and too many do.

In my experience, Church People — a more accurate description for many Christians — are asleep, readily accepting what they are told, and quick to jump on, or at, the people we’re instructed to hate: radical Muslims, or the liberal left, or anyone who speaks against Israel (there are, after all, Christian Palestinians)

It’s not all church people, and I’m not advocating that all people leave church, but I am advocating — regardless of where, or how much, or even if, you attend church —  getting very serious about your relationship with Christ, and being willing to follow where He leads you — which may very well be away from the wide, safe road where everyone is singing songs, and lifting hands, and taking notes from the sermon.

(I know, you thought you were on the narrow path already, didn’t you?)

If He is trying to open your ears and yours eyes, so that you can hear and see — and speak — He may very well lead you out of the village.

Follow Him.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Let me stop some of you right now: we’re happy where we are, in our unchurched situation, and while the experience of being pushed out of the church setting was initially painful, we would never undo it.

We also know that there is no such thing as a perfect church body/setting, and we are not looking for one. We interact with fellow believers in whatever manner God presents before us, and we encourage all Christians to remember that we — the saints who believe in Christ — are the church — not a building, not a denomination, and not a weekly service.

Posts similar to this one are

Alone But Not Lonely

I’m a Christian But I’m Not Religious

The Misfit Christian (in church, out of church — if you feel like you’re always out of step with the group, stop blaming yourself and say, “Here I am, God.” )


Is Singing in Church the Only Way to Worship?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If you’re a Christian, and you’ve attended church, then you probably recognize the term: “Worship Service.”

This is the time, just after the announcements and immediately before the sermon, when the congregation corporately sings — from the hymnal or off the PowerPoint words on a giant white screen. Generally, we’re helped along in the process by the “Worship Team.”

If I actually knew how to play the piano, I would incorporate this in my worship, but since I'm musically inept, I close my eyes and listen to those who do play well. And I think. That's how I worship. Photo Credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

If I actually knew how to play the piano, I would incorporate this in my worship, but since I’m musically inept, I close my eyes and listen to those who do play well. And I think. That’s how I worship. Photo Credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Years ago, my husband the Norwegian Artist and I were part of this team (I know, sometimes I’m surprised at myself, too): he played the guitar and I stood up with two other women in front of the microphone and sang, because otherwise, some of those songs — especially contemporary ones that need to be replicated exactly the way they are performed on the radio — are too difficult to get through.

(Why not just play the song digitally? I always wondered. We’ll just close our eyes and listen.)

The Worship Plan

Now every church and every congregation has its own way of doing things, but generally there is a “worship plan” as to what songs are chosen, how many, and in what order, so while the specifics vary, the concept of the Plan does not. At the time we were on the worship team, the Plan looked like this:

1) Two songs, quick and lively, immediately before announcements.

2) After announcements, 5 songs, following a theme — prayer, joy, patriotism, spiritual war, etc.  We began on a faster, upbeat note and transitioned into a thoughtful, slow, meditative mood. Some days, we were “Jewish,” meaning that everything was in a minor key and sounded like the musical score of Fiddler on the Roof. Other days, we were thoroughly American Gentile, staying firmly on that major key.

3) Two hymns/three contemporary choruses or three hymns/two contemporary choruses. Occasionally, if the songs were short enough, we could sing 6 songs, or 7, but the general time limit was around 15 minutes.

4) If I had any say, at all, I shot down all songs that involved words like, “I lift my hands up,” because I felt like a thorough idiot waving my arms about in front of 150 people and pretending as if I didn’t know they were there. Of course they are there — they’re staring at me.

Ocean Breeze inspirational oil painting of woman onocean beach at sunset with dress and fabric by Steve Henderson

When I do raise my arms — an extremely intimate, submissive gesture — I do so alone in the presence of my Holy Father, because His are the only eyes that need to see. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

5) At the close of the Worship Service, we quietly and prayerfully exited the stage, heads bowed, while the pastor strode to the podium and adjusted the microphone clipped to his tie. Worship time is officially over.

Announcements, Songs, Sermon

In every evangelical Christian church we have attended in a lifetime of attending church services, this is what Worship looks like, with variations, as mentioned before, on the type or number of songs sung. What is a given, however, is that there is a Plan, and that Plan is adhered to. In the allotted 10-20 minutes, the congregation sings —  “worships” – with no allowance made for extending the time if people are really getting into it, because that sermon, you know, is mandatory.

When we stopped attending weekly church services and started walking the narrow, winding path of the difficult, dissident, independent Christian, I wondered, at first, how I would “worship.”

Not being a particularly good singer (or so my family says) and totally incapable of playing any musical instrument, I figured that worship was no longer a part of my life — because I wasn’t singing, and according to contemporary church culture, worship consists of controlled, corporate, group singing. In bigger churches, it looks more like a concert, and the people in the congregation aren’t really necessary because they’re not as professional as the team up front. (In smaller churches, that doesn’t tend to be an issue.)

The Traditions of Men

So for years, as I sought God, prayed, rested in His arms, meditated upon Scripture, marveled at creation, and thought deeply about truth, peace, hope, and joy, I didn’t worship.

Or did I? Like many aspects of contemporary establishment corporate Christianity, worship is defined by what we do in church services: we sing, as group, led by a smaller group.

When we pray, we pray, as a group, led by an elder, deacon, or pastor.

When we study Scripture, we do so in a group, guided by a Small Group Leader who is most likely an elder, a deacon, or a pastor. (If it’s “just” women, or children, a deaconess can preside, but not if there’s any testosterone in the room.)

I am reminded of Jesus’s words in Mark 7: 6-8, when He responds to the Pharisees’ accusations that Christ’s disciples don’t “live according to the tradition of the elders,”

“He replied – Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but the rules taught by men.’

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

There’s nothing wrong with singing in church, but more than one person has commented, “I don’t feel what the words are saying, but I’m singing them anyway. Is that wrong?”

Stop Limiting Ourselves

Not necessarily, but your question is good. Recognize that worshiping God is not limited, defined, or confined by gathering in a group and following the leaders behind the microphones.

Worship Him alone, at home, on your own — whether or not you sing — by simply focusing on His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His love, His sheer perfection. Read His Word, and seek its truth.

Psalm 100 tells us to “Shout for joy to the Lord,” and I’m sure there will be some mega-church, somewhere, that will make a movement out of doing this literally.

“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 

“Know that the Lord is God . . . give thanks to him and praise his name.”

Sing, if you wish. Or listen to beautiful music (it doesn’t have to be “Christian”), and let it carry you upward. Or be silent. There is no standard rule – a tradition of men – that God requires you to follow in worshiping Him.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I reach out to, and try to find, the Christians who don’t fit into, or are tired of, contemporary establishment church culture.

Posts similar to this one are

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“Why Are You So Afraid? Do You Still Have No Faith?”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

This last week on Facebook was one of general fear, anxiety, panic and despair, not so much because everyone was in and out of relationships, or because Lucky Slots wasn’t doing well, but because too many Christians are preparing for the imminent invasion of the United States by hostile forces.

Sometimes, as Christians, are responses and reactions look too much like that of the world. The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin

Sometimes, as Christians, our responses and reactions look too much like that of the world. The Isle of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin

The overall message was along the lines of, “We’re ready to die! Except . . . we don’t really want to die.

“But Jesus is coming soon and He’s going to end the world anyway, so . . . we’re all going to die!”

If it isn’t ISIS it’s the Russians, and if it isn’t the Russians, it’s the Muslim extremists, and if it isn’t the Muslim extremists, it’s the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, which somehow has an effect on us, but the overall tone is one of defeat, despair, discouragement and . . . fear.

Knee Jerk Reaction

And the solution, we’re told and Facebook Christians are repeating, is to invade assorted sovereign nations and blow people up, and if women and children (some of them are our Christian brethren) are caught in the crossfire, then that’s too bad, because they shouldn’t be there in the first place.

This hardly seems like an attitude in line with a people who are against abortion because it takes the life of innocent unborn children, but fear does funny things to us, and the folks who traffic in fear know this. Good people, who would not otherwise kick a dog, call out for “forceful measures” overseas — where we don’t see — and because there are few visuals of the damage caused by these measures (not just buildings blown up, but the people who were sitting in the buildings at the time the bomb hit), we are insulated from the results of our call to action.

“Kill,” we urge, “before they kill us.”

A People of Peace, and Wisdom

It’s not that there’s nothing to fear — but it’s our reaction to information, and disinformation, and misinformation — that is alarming, and that the people who follow the Prince of Peace are among the first to demand that we release the bombs doesn’t say much about our discernment, wisdom, commitment to truth, and thought.

How accurate is the information that we are receiving? (and as an aside, just because Bill O’Reilly says it’s so, folks, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s so.) And what is the result of that information — knowledge? confidence? a falling down on our knees before Almighty God and asking what we should do? He is, after all, our King, and the ultimate leader we follow.

No, it’s anger. And fear.

Opalescent Sea inspirational original oil painting of ocean waves by Steve Henderson

Waves buffet. That’s what they do. But there’s no reason they should swamp, overwhelm, or sink us. Opalescent Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

In Mark 4:35-41, Jesus and the disciples head across the sea when a furious squall comes up, and the boat is nearly swamped. Jesus, asleep in the stern, is awakened by panicking disciples, saying (shouting, in my mind),

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

The Wind and Waves of Fear

At this point Jesus arises, rebukes the wind and the waves, and then turns to His disciples and says,

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

This extremely difficult passage (told also in Matthew 8:23-27 and Luke 8:22-25) always puzzles me because I think,

“Well, what are they supposed to do? There’s a storm, and the boat is sinking and You’re, um, asleep.”

The standard preacher pulpit solution that, “They’re supposed to trust Him because He did, after all, say they were going to the other side,” doesn’t fully cover all the questions. Were they supposed to waken Jesus earlier? Or sit down beside Him until He did so on His own? Or keep bailing water?

Obviously, I’m not the only one wondering, because the copious notes at the bottom, which helpfully inform me “miracles are hard for modern man to accept,” and “The sea of Galilee is particularly susceptible to sudden, violent storms,” completely ignores the, “Do you still have no faith?” part.

We Trust the Wrong Sources

But one thing is clear, the disciples’ question, “don’t you care if we drown?” implies a strong distrust in Christ’s ability to handle this storm, and perhaps may give the insight we need to understand Jesus’ following two questions.

There is much to fear in our world today, but as Christians, we are not to be buffeted about by the waves and winds of media and social media despair, calling for extreme action before we even know what we’re fighting. How many innocent people have been shot, beaten, or tasered to death by insecure police troops who reacted — too forcefully – to feeling “threatened”?

We, too, feel threatened — every time we turn on the news or listen to a political commentator — but why is our first response NOT to run to Jesus, asleep in the stern, and say, “I’m frightened. What would you have me to do?”

I seriously doubt that His response would be, “Bomb ‘em. Bomb ‘em all.”

“As we fight evil people, some innocents will have to be killed,” we sigh, which sounds uncomfortably like the high priest Caiaphas’s advise to the Jews who were out to kill Jesus, “It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:50)

That one man did die, and He rose again, and Christians follow Him. As difficult as it is, we must wrestle with Scripture — not change it — and bring our actions, and reactions, into alignment with God’s will.

That will doesn’t look like human politics.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where all I’m asking Christians to do is stop. Think. Question what we’re told. Stop allowing people to manipulate us.

And don’t give in to fear.

Posts similar to this one are

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Improving Your Meditation Skills

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Meditation is one of those words with multiple meanings, and some Christians are frightened by the concept because they think that meditating involves emptying their minds completely and allowing outside spiritual forces to fill the vacuum.

open Bible with reading glasses and hurricane lamp inspirational photo by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Meditating upon the word involves active, pronounced thinking — challenging our mind, not emptying it. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

(Interestingly, this is a good description of what happens when we sit in front of the TV, chips in hand, but for some reason we keep doing it.)

Emptying one’s mind, however, is not the only option (and indeed, not a valid one for Christians), and meditation upon Scripture involves actively using that mind as we contemplate, muse, ponder, and deliberate over what we are reading:

“His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2

Consider meditation as an extension of prayer, the fusion of which deepens our relationship with God. With that in mind, here are five thoughts to think about meditation, and making it a part of your life:

Alone with God

1) Find someplace quiet. Thinking requires concentration, and concentration is best accomplished without distraction. Some people find this on a solitary walk; others prefer a door with a lock.

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6. Like most people, you may not have a lot of time in your day, but if getting up at 3:30 a.m. doesn’t appeal to you, then make the most of the time you have:

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)

If you only have 5 minutes, then use every one of those 300 seconds.


2) Read the Bible on a regular basis. If memorizing verses is an agony to you, don’t worry about it — regular, consistent time with the Bible is enough to familiarize yourself with its content, and even if you don’t make a point of focusing on one verse for a week, truth will come to your mind when you need it, because you’ve tucked it away, somewhere, in that mind.

Queen Anne's Lace inspirational oil painting of young woman in meadow with flowers wearing lace shawl by Steve Henderson

Meditation is a two-person activity that involves you, and God. Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Look to the Bible as a source of truth, and you will find it:

“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8: 19, 20)

No Worries

3) Throughout the day, muse on what you’ve read, as opposed to worrying, speculating about the future, or conducting fruitless conversations with imaginary people in your head.

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands, and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 11: 17)

While we don’t have to literally slap post-it notes on the backs of our hands and on furniture, when we think about — meditate upon — the stories and histories and relationships and conversations we encounter in the Bible, we are training our mind to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” (Philippians 4:8) and thereby decreasing our anxiety level.

Looking for God

4) Speaking of anxiety, it is frequently in times of stress and pain that we turn to God at all. The good thing is that we’re turning to Him; the bad thing is that worry, fear, and stress can act as mental barriers to hearing His teaching, which is one practical reason to meditate upon Christ’s rhetorical question,

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6: 25)

Nobody prefers bad times to good, but if the circumstances are such that you realize things are out of control and only in the hands of God, you’re on the right track. Recognize this as a time to grow through your experience, continue reading, and actively pursue pondering about what you are reading. When you want to worry, force — literally force — your mind to think about something from the Bible. (If the tendency to fret is invasive enough, this might be a good time to decide that you want to memorize a verse, after all.)

Sometimes, what you read will seem applicable to your situation; other times, it won’t. Don’t obsess – just let your mind poke and prod and tease and question Scripture.

Give Thanks

5) Clear your mind of worry by being thankful.

Not for the problems — it’s perverse to pray, “Thank you, God, that I lost my job,” or, “I praise you for this cancer diagnosis.”

But in the midst of the crisis, focus on what isn’t going wrong: “Thank you that there’s enough food to eat.”

“Thank you that bad people aren’t breaking down my door at 3 a.m. and taking me away somewhere.”

“Thank you that the toilet isn’t overflowing.”

Mentally going over things to be thankful for stops the anxiety train, clears the brain, and enables us to prayerfully think — which is what meditation is all about.

Meditation isn’t magic, it doesn’t need to be done with a candle, you don’t need to sit a certain way, and you don’t need to say, “Om.”

When you practice it, however — reflecting upon Scripture, ruminating upon the stories and history of the Word, mentally lingering over a phrase or sentence — you subtly train your mind to be stronger, more focused, and directed on the right things — as you no longer “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12: 2)

Don’t be scared of meditation. Renew your mind with it.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I speak up as an ordinary, individual Christian. I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget, I don’t work through a “Christian” publishing house, and I don’t make movies.

I’m just one, small, tiny David in a world full of Goliaths, trying to point Christians back to the real thing, the real truth, as opposed to what we’re told, taught, and teased is supposed to be Christianity. If you like what you read, please pass me on. And don’t be afraid to start speaking up and out yourself, if you’re not already doing so.

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