Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Family and Friends Are Not Dysfunctional

posted by Carolyn Henderson

People matter.

“Of course they do,” we all nod our heads emphatically.  A ridiculously easy way to bring people to tears is to show them a clip of a politician, movie celebrity, or extraordinarily rich and famous businessperson wiping their eyes and stumblingly uttering how much their spouse, daughter, or grandfather means to them.

Evening Waltz inspirational original oil painting of couple dancing on ocean beach at sunset by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.com

Life is a dance, and you don’t waltz alone, nor with your bank account or curriculum vita. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.

“So beautiful,” we sigh. “It’s good to see people of influence speaking out in support of the family.”

Why?

When something is true and right and good — like relationships between family and friends — why is it so important to garner words of approval by recognizable names? Does it make a truth more true somehow?

Back at the beginning of all things — before schools and universities, social clubs and professional organizations, churches and corporations — there was one man, Adam, and God saw that “it is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 1:18)

First Family — Nothing to Do with the President

This helper wasn’t a professional colleague but a wife, and the first family was born, predating and preeminent over all establishments to follow because it is the one that God Himself — and not man — created. It is also the one unit that mankind throughout history — by wars, slavery, taxation, economic deprivation, unfriendly legislation, and social and mass media attack — seeks to destroy, because people of evil know that the major impediment to getting the masses to do what they’re told, is the loyalty of each individual in those masses to the friends and family that have a hold on their heart, soul, and being.

golden opportunity inspirational original oil painting of sailboat on Puget Sound sea at sunset by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at allposters.com, great big canvas, framed canvas art, iCanvas, amazon.com, and art.com

The perfect afternoon isn’t so much sunlight and the right amount of breeze, as it is relaxing in the company of people who love and accept us. Golden Opportunity, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, All Posters, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas.

In most people, it’s a far stronger hold than the desire for money, a longing for fame, or even fear. (This may be one reason why we’re so fascinated when people of extreme power, wealth, and fame acknowledge a sense of caring to anything other than power, wealth, and fame. It’s wise, as outsiders and ordinary people, always to remember that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also (Matthew 6:21) — a significant sign of where we put our treasure being where we invest our time, attention, and loyalty.)

“Greater love has no one than this,” Jesus told His disciples in John 15:13, “that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Jesus loved His disciples, like family (“Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” — Matthew 12:50), and it is notable that He refers to God as His Father and ours, not a co-worker, not a boss, not an expert, not a psycho-therapist. Jesus’s primary relationships include that with His Father and His siblings — you, and me.

A Man of Words 

So, to arguably one of the most famous men of all time, family and friends truly and distinctly mattered. With an endorsement of that degree, we honestly don’t need additional ones from anyone else. Indeed, the lip service paid to family by those whose priorities lie obviously in other directions, cheapens the value of the meaningful relationships that are a unique part of all our lives.

Last night, we had a household — every single one of the progeny plus two grandchildren, including the latest, Itsy Bitsy. After a dinner of chicken soup and homemade flat bread, it was time to clean up and parcel out chores: clearing the table, washing the dishes, drying and putting away, sweeping the floor — if you eat, you know the procedure.

As matriarch, I listed the various things that needed to be done (old habits die hard) and commandeered the most essential, and important, activity for myself:

“I’ll hold the baby.”

The Most Important Job

It was a job that I kept up long after everyone else finished theirs, and while nothing tangible was accomplished for the next hour and a half (I didn’t even have to change the diaper), the baby slept — safe, warm, and loved — while I rocked and mused about the relationship between a protector and the protected. Itsy Bitsy won’t remember this day, but I will, the same way I have never forgotten abandoning the laundry in the basket one afternoon while I held, for two hours, a sleeping Son and Heir. At the time, I told myself, “I will never forget this.”

And neither has he, even though he doesn’t consciously remember, because the time we invest in our children, our parents, our cousins, our uncles and aunts and grandparents and grandchildren, and friends isn’t limited to two hours in a chair, rocking, or one afternoon playing cribbage, or one Saturday morning brunch. The time we invest in people is continuous and continual, and the dividends we receive are warmth, laughter, security, sympathy, trust, protection, and deep, deep love.

Family is the cornerstone of normalcy and independence, and the best way to create a neurotic, fearful, anxious, and malleable people is to cut their ties with other human beings who love them, and replace these ties with bonds of laws, regulations, expert advice, governmental intrusion, false societal expectations, and mass media manipulation.

There is a reason why most ordinary people aren’t fabulously rich, famous, or powerful — not because we’re stupid, or because we don’t work hard enough, but because we do not make money, fame, or power our priority. It is also the reason why money, fame, and power tend to run in families, like legacies, because, whether or not extremely rich, famous, and powerful people spend a lot of time rocking their children, they do pass on their earthbound treasures.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God,” the apostle John says in 1 John 4:7. Unlike money or material possessions, love, when divided, multiplies into more, so it is possible to love, and love, and love, and never run out. It is truly a renewable resource to which all of us — regardless of our last name, family dynasty (or lack of it), education, and social position — have access, and all we need to do is use it — give it away — to create more.

People do matter.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to seek God’s love, as opposed to religion’s rules, and pass it on to their neighbor.

Posts complementing this one are

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When Powerful People Repent — Is It Real?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The other day, I read an intriguing post by a Famous Face. Like many Famous Faces, when he speaks, hordes of people — far too many of the Christian persuasion, incidentally — listen.

Ridge Top View inspirational original oil painting of trees in wilderness on top of mountain hill by Steve Henderson

As humans, it’s easy to elevate our idea of ourselves to the heights, but it’s cold and brutal up there. Ridge Top View, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

But the general message of this man, like much of what is propounded on a mass scale by people whose faces we recognize but whose genuine essence we do not know, isn’t necessarily true, right, honorable, well-meaning, or accurate, although it does cause listeners and readers to be frightened, anxious, angry, discomposed, and intimidated.

(Interesting fruit. When you find yourself eating it, because someone has sliced it into easy-to-chew pieces, it’s time to look at the hand that’s feeding you.)

But back to our Face, whose latest musings paraphrase into something like this:

“I am deeply disturbed over what is going on today, and am questioning the leadership everywhere, in all areas. Most especially the religious leadership — I fear that they are steering us wrong — but I’m sure they know what is right.

“I am driven back to God in a state of humility, fearing that even I am guilty of arrogance. I am questioning, and I am seeking God’s wisdom in all this.”

A Statement of Repentance?

The overall statement sounds thoughtful, moderately contrite, and meditative, especially the “doubting the leadership” part which is something that more and more lay people — the masses of humanity who should be satisfied sharing inspirational memes on Facebook and watching, absorbing, internalizing, and accepting the inculcation in the latest movies and TV show — are increasingly starting to do.

“For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open,” Jesus says in Luke 8:17.

Contemplation inspirational original oil painting of woman in autumn meditating over leaf by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, all posters.com, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas

Increasingly, ordinary people are asking more and more questions, and this bothers the powerful people who take it upon themselves to provide us with answers. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, Art. com, and AllPosters.

The masses are waking up, and asking questions. And for those who consider themselves outside the masses, “guiding” us, so to speak, this is disturbing.

So, when I read the Famous Face’s words, my initial, first, and enduring reaction was, “Is this real? Or is it simply a preemptive strike against the upsetting questions that people are beginning to ask, thereby deflecting their attention elsewhere?”

While this sounds cynical, part of being shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16) in a culture controlled and manipulated by mass media is questioning the words, and motives, of people we know only by what we are told by the people themselves, or the impressions we are given by what is written and said about them.

Healthy Suspicion

Since it’s unrealistic for most of us to know, personally, the Faces and Voices that we blithely invite into our lives, we need to 1) maintain a strong sense of suspicion about anything we are told and 2) judge (yes, we can do that) the people who influence us, by their fruit:

“Watch out for false prophets,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:15-18 (and by the way, a prophet isn’t limited to a man from the 4th century B.C. who walks around in robes; another translation for “prophet,” in Greek, is “spokesman”).

“They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

So my abiding reaction regarding this man’s apparent repentance looks something like this:

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

True Repentance Results in Change

True repentance results not only in a change within the person, manifested in the outward behavior, but often in a change of their circumstances, since, when we question the establishment and its motives, we are immediately perceived as a threat that must be removed.

In other words, when a person of prominence and exaltation starts expressing misgivings about the system which generously funds his public voice, then the results of his repentance should approximate what happens to the rest of us when we turn around 180 degrees from what we have been doing and walk the opposite direction. He gets fired. And — in the lives of ordinary people at least — the income isn’t made up by lucrative book deals and a “self-funded” talk show, or a “grass-roots ministry” that miraculously explodes into something big.

“You brood of vipers!” John the Baptist said, in Matthew 3:7-8 to the Pharisees and Sadducees coming out to be baptized by him.

“Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

John wasn’t being nasty or classicist, refusing grace to those who asked for it — he was observing, quite sharply, that the religious rulers and leaders weren’t there to repent, but to give the impression of repentance. John’s message was getting out there, people were waking up, and questions were arising about the teachings and motivations of those very leaders. Much as what is happening today.

The Cost of Following Christ

Many, many Christians — throughout history and now — stand up and speak out against what is wrong, and few of them — throughout history and now — are rewarded, monetarily and with fame, by the system they speak against.

“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed,” the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 describes the circumstances that accompany those who die daily to self as they follow the way and words of Christ. (Paul himself, we remember, left a lucrative career in leadership.)

The fruit we find in the lives of deeply committed Christians who do their best to love their neighbor with the love that comes from God Himself, is generally humility, often accompanied by a lack of significant material riches, fame, and power; and when riches are given, they are just as quickly given away to those who have nothing.

That’s the fruit I look for in prominent public figures who speak — forcefully and publicly — about their repentance.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage my brothers and sisters to stop hanging around in the laundry room, convinced that their only significant contribution is to fold underwear while other members of the family — greater and better and wiser — do the “important” work. Everyone should take a turn in the laundry room with the underwear, and those who are unwilling, don’t belong in the house.

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What Chickens Teach Us about God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There are two primary ways to learn about God:

The first, and most obvious to all of us (even though we may not take advantage of the resource), is Scripture itself. Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Gospels, Epistles, History, or Poetry — the Bible is full of references about God, and when we read it on a regular basis, with an open mind and a strong dependence upon God Himself to teach, we absorb the love, the grace, the wisdom, the power, and the awesomeness of our Father.

Wise chicks stay close to the mother hen, and they listen for her voice. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Wise chicks stay close to the mother hen, and they listen for her voice. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

The second, less obvious, but no less important means of learning about God is through His creation:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:29)

Simply walking outside is a lesson about God, only our problem, in a society that is increasingly trapped within cities and spends its day going from car to cubicle, from cubicle to grocery store, from grocery store to interior living space, all with a radio, iPod or TV droning music or talk show or newscaster in the background, is that sometimes it’s difficult to notice God’s creation, so eclipsed is it by man’s messiness.

Sheep, Chickens, Goats

When Jesus walked the earth, people on the whole were less insulated from God’s creation, given that New York City and its clones weren’t the societal norm, and nobody had cell phones. Many of our wise Eldest Brother’s stories and statements had to do with sheep, or vineyards, or walking from one town to the next, or fishing, or even my favorite, chickens.

Now those of you not privileged to have chickens in your life — living ones, that aren’t breaded or fried — don’t know what you’re missing. “Pecking order” is a real and violent thing, and within a flock, there are definitely the top birds, the lowest of the low, and everyone in between. In a chicken coop, if you have multiple bars on which the birds may roost, the dominant birds are at the top, prime real estate where everyone wants to be, because if a predator does get in, it will go for the birds on the lowest level. For this reason, there’s a lot of pushing and jostling and moving about on one’s roost, to secure the best spot.

It reminds me of a classroom, or office environment. And speaking of offices and upper level management, roosters crow a lot, frequently for no reason.

Run to God’s Protection

One of Jesus’s oddest metaphors had to do with chickens, an aching lament in Luke 14:34-35  (see also Matthew 23-37-38):

Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother and child by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Amazon.com

We are small and helpless, reliant upon the strength of our heavenly Father. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you were not willing!”

Quite honestly, most of the time chickens seem like pretty mundane, primeval creatures (which they are, and they aren’t), and left to free range, they patrol an area regularly for worms, grubs, and grass. But a mother hen is something different indeed, easy to identify from a distance even when you can’t see the chicks near her feet:

She stands straighter. She’s alert, constantly looking for danger. And when she senses that danger, she emits a special clucking noise that brings the chicks — the smart ones that wind up surviving, that is — to her at a run. They gather under her outspread wings, which she then enfolds around the chicks, sheltering them from the threat.

Most dogs and cats take this as a strong indication to keep their distance, and even wild creatures think twice about approaching a puffed out, inflated, extremely belligerent creature. And while the chicken is not generally thought of as a noble animal — like a lion, a tiger, or even a polar bear, all of whom don’t take kindly to strangers messing with their children — the mother hen is noble in her own right, and she will give her life to protect her brood.

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge,” the Psalmist cries out in Psalm 57:1-2.

“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

As I mentioned before, the chicks that survive are the ones that listen for and heed that special clucking of the hen; those that run off into the grass, panicking, generally find themselves in the jaws of a predator.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge,” Psalm 91:4 describes our creator, our God, our Father as a bird — a mother bird no less — because in this creature that He made He infused a sense of protection, and fury against the enemy, and willingness to fight to protect what is hers.

We Are God’s Precious Children

This is God’s attitude toward us, His precious children, and He wants us to stay close, near Him so that when He calls we can drop what we’re doing and run to His protection, because we mean so much to Him. The mother hen does not stop her chicks just before they reach her wings, asking whether they were thinking right thoughts a minute ago, or whether or not they ascribe to correct doctrine — all that matters to her (and to them) is that they come when she calls, and rely upon her to be safe.

Such is the lesson that we can learn about God, from chickens:

We are precious to Him, and we need His protection, because there are a lot of predators out there ready to eat us up and spit us out. Rather than keep our distance, because we obsess, constantly, that God is displeased with who we are (His children!), let us stay well within His circle of protection, learning from Him how to uncover the food we need, where to find water, where to safely sleep.

And let us listen, always, for His voice, because it is one of love and care, compassion and mercy, and it calls us to His side.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you to seek God, always, with this fact in mind:

He is all good. All loving, All compassionate. All merciful.

If any doctrine or teaching calls this into question, then change the doctrine, not your idea of God. The latter is what we find happening throughout our contemporary 21st century establishment Christianity, leading many of us to fear God in a manner that involves suspicion, not awe.

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Corporate Christianity: 5 Ways to Stop Thinking Like Office Workers

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Family, teamwork, community — for years these words have circulated through our corporate business culture as a means of convincing people that the workplace is warm, caring, fuzzy, and cuddly.

Corporate culture is so prevalent, that it starts to feel normal to us. Screen shot from TV show, The Office.

Corporate culture is so prevalent, that it starts to feel normal to us. Screen shot from TV show, The Office. NBC Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater

What’s intriguing is that the same words are employed within Christian settings, which increasingly look like the business world: with our leadership meetings, discipleship committees, and small group participatory events, the world of the establishment church is feeling cloyingly like the world of work.

These thoughts were reinforced throughout the week as I used my new calendar, a page-by-page Spanish-a-day affair that is choosing to devote January to business, which is what establishment Christianity is in danger of looking like all year round. Here are the first five days of business-related sentences, in English, and thoughts on how they relate to Christianity:

1) “I love my job.”

Many people actually don’t like their jobs, but that’s beside the point. Translated into Christian culture this phrase is, “I love my church.”

While we may or may not love the place we spend Sunday mornings from 9:30 to noon, church is more than a building, or even the closed group of people living within that building.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:27. It’s easy to circumscribe our definition of church and forget that it includes all of God’s children, some of whom live in Palestine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (v. 26)

2) “I enjoy interacting with my co-workers.”

Within Christianity, this is called “fellowship,” something that is low on the corporate Christian ladder and well below small groups, discipleship, leadership classes, Sunday School, Bible study, and “ministry opportunities.”

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of woman and child on ocean beach reading book by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, amazon, framed canvas art, icanvasart, and great big canvas

People matter, and loving people — our neighbor, our family, our sister — is the most important component of fellowship. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at art. com, amazon, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

But of all that list, not only is fellowship the most important, it is also the only one that can — and should — be accomplished on the level of the ordinary Christian, without “leadership” supervision or interference.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love,” Paul says in Romans 12:9. “Honor one another above yourselves . . . Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

It’s hard to love, pray for, or be concerned about someone we hardly know, and we can’t know someone we only exchange a few words with (“Will you please pass me the hymnal?”) once a week in a highly structured situation.

Since you probably won’t have much opportunity to do so during religious services, make an effort to seek out and communicate with believers — whether or not they go to your church — on a regular basis. In other words, when Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us to “Not give up meeting together,” think outside the building.

3) “They’ve just given me a raise in my salary.”

(I never said that this calendar was accurate, just that it was teaching Spanish vocabulary.)

Prosperity doctrine infects the church, and even those who say they reject it have to fight the innate belief that when good things happen in our lives, it’s because we’re being good; and when bad things happen — especially to other people — it’s because they deserve it.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19, writing from prison.

Whatever is happening to us, God knows about it, and if it tends to be unpleasant, this is not necessarily an indication that we are wrong and being punished, nor that we need to “declare” and “claim” all the louder.

Indeed, riches — for all that we secretly want them and are convinced that we would do a better job wielding them than most — are a snare that God doesn’t necessarily want us to be entrapped in:

“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 19:24. I wonder how often this verse is seriously discussed in contemporary churches?

4) “I have to get ready for the interview.”

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to given an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Too many people take this to mean that they have to sound like a professional evangelist, the kind who fills football stadiums, and they disparage themselves because they’re not quick and slick with their answers.

But rather than waste time practicing what we’ll say, why not absorb ourselves in Scripture and in contemplation with God, asking Him to show us what it is that we believe, and why?

It’s a given that, when we talk to people about God, they’ll come up with some difficult questions (like, “How can a loving God send the people I love so dearly to hell?”) and before we put them down for not accepting our standard answers, maybe we should look at some of those standard answers and see if, deep down, they satisfy us, either.

Any doctrine, any belief, any statement that puts into question the all merciful, all loving, all gracious, and all compassionate nature of God, is one that we need to review and pray about.

5) “The company offers rather generous benefits.”

An old joke, still circulating as if we’ve never heard it, is, “I may not get paid much for being a Christian, but the retirement benefits are out of this world!”

Because we are eternal beings, life has to be lived wherever we are, now, and those of us who aren’t dead (physically, that is) do not have to wait until heaven to experience the benefits of belonging to the household of our heavenly Father:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said in John 10:10.

If your reaction to this sentence is along the lines of, “When will I have this, Lord?” then give yourself points for honesty, and go ahead and ask Him. It’s okay to want this abundant life — He wants you to want it, actually — and if you ask Him to lead you to it, He will. Keep in mind, however, with reference to point number 2, that the benefits the world looks for are not the ones that He is concerned with.

Christianity is not a business, but the people outside of it — and too many within it — can’t be faulted for thinking that it is so. Those of us in the cubicles, however, can make a difference by not listening so much to management, and getting back to the real thing.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

Posts complementing this one are

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