Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Longing for Success

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If you want people to read an article you write, or watch a video you post, just make sure that the title has the word, “Success” in it. (I know. I just did that. Did it work?)

Fortunately, I am not attracted by these headlines that really reel the readers in, (preferring, instead, articles with photos of celebrities without make-up), but Success Articles abound:

Lady of the Lake inspirational oil painting woman by mountain lake in gold fabric skirt by Steve Henderson

Successful people are not necessarily found in corporate boardrooms; those truly successful in life value different things than money, power, fame, and name. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

The Bill Gates Plan: Five key attributes of the Successful Person.

Superstar Managers: How They Achieve Success and Become CEOs

13 Secrets to Success: Steve Jobs Still Speaks

Wisdom from Linked In

It’s not hard to find these — just pop onto Linked In and look at the top 5 stories, most of which have a minimum of 50,000 views. One time, I wandered over just to see what the writers were actually saying, which is, predictably, not much:

Successful people are confident, and powerful, and pro-active;  focused,  intentional, and dynamic; and they have a winning way about them. They have broad horizons and a sense of ownership that drives their thirst for excellence.

What’s intriguing — a little sad, actually — about these articles are the comments beneath:

“A pro-active approach to engaging a positive outlook on one’s horizon is top notch and essential!” — the implication strongly being that, not only does the commenting person agree with everything in the article, she or he actually got something out of it. (While one hopes that the people reading, and understanding, these success stories are not responsible for the middle management of others, I have a strong, sinking suspicion that they are.)

It’s Not a Sin to Want to Eat

For an ordinary person, wanting to be successful — as in, having more money than one needs to cover the rent, taxes, insurance, utilities, fees, a bit of clothing now and then, and adequate food — isn’t a sin. Anxiety about the future is a common attribute to mankind, and that God promised the Hebrew people a “land of milk and honey” is particularly telling:

We need to eat, and a place to live, and it’s increasingly difficult — in a global economy run by outrageously affluent people who are unwilling to share — for the average person to do this. So we flock to the Success stories, written by and about human raptors who make money off of the those who read and follow them. Do we honestly think that they truly want us to join them?

Shore Leave inspirational oil painting of rowboats on Columbia River by Steve Henderson

When the voices we choose to listen to tell us that we need and deserve a yacht, and they’ll tell us how to get there, we might overlook that God has already provided us with a boat. It’s small, but it’s a boat. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed, open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Yeah, I guess we do.

That’s why the prosperity preachers continue to make it: if the people in the pews would stop writing the checks, it would be interesting to see how long the Power Verses of Prosperity continued to work for the pulpit-holders promoting them.

But we’ll probably never know — because the people in the pews won’t stop writing the checks.

Follow the Master, not the Master-Mouth

As Christians, we are never promised prosperity, and indeed, because no servant is greater than his master (John 15: 20), we might keep in mind who our Master is, and how He lived (and died). While this seems a bit of a downer — I don’t want to be crucified any more than the next person does — it keeps our focus on God, not mammon, and our trust in His knowing what is best for our lives. It may not be a new car — but an old one, that runs, is a blessing that we will miss if we are constantly agitating for the Success that the world promises.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” Isaiah 30: 15 says, which should be comforting, because we don’t have to be pro-active and dynamic and intentional and powerful and confident — everything our corporate culture (which has infiltrated the church, and not just prosperity churches, by the way) insists that we must be.

Actually, what we have to do is more difficult — in that verse above, repentance is the only “active” movement we can take; resting, being quiet, and trusting — while they seem passive — are astoundingly difficult things to do. We can’t succeed at them without God’s help and intervention. But to get that, all we have to do is ask.

The rest of the verse provides an interesting twist:

“. . . but you would have none of it.”

The Hebrews looked for strength and assistance from Egypt, the very nation that had enslaved them earlier and from which God rescued them, because they were impressed by its wealth and confidence and splendor and pro-active, intentional way of doing things.

The corporate world is Egypt, my friends. How do we think that it will answer our prayers?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. It is remarkably difficult separating what our individual culture calls truth from actual truth. The best lie is one that is 95 percent true.

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Alone But Not Lonely

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I live in a society that is desperately afraid of being alone. So alarmed are we of solitude that we define normalcy by how many groups we belong to:

“I go to church, Sunday School, and small groups.”

“I volunteer through our Give-Back-to-Others program at work.”

Ending the Day on a Good Note original oil painting with 1940s inspirational girl taking off hat next to gramophone by Steve Henderson

It is normal and healthy to crave time to ourselves, and with God. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original painting by Steve Henderson.

“I belong to many civic organizations, and we do good things for the community. I am even a leader in some of these groups.”

“I have a lot of friends, and I get together with people all the time.”

And the crowning achievement:

“I am a people person.”

Our most signature sign of failure as a human being is the diner in the cafeteria or restaurant — be it a school child or professional adult — eating alone, and I will never forget a friend in college describing his reaction to the situation this way:

“I want to stand up and shout, ‘I have friends! I’m not a loser!’”

Not a Loser

Alone means lonely, and lonely means loser.

But is that true?

Because we are never, or rarely, alone, and when we are we have ear buds in or the TV droning, silence is a novelty, but it is only in and through silence — away from the noise and the chatter and the distractions — that we are able to think, meditate, reflect, ponder, pray, and . . . listen.

The Bible talks about the still, small voice of God. In context, you’ll find it in 1 Kings 19, when Elijah, after an especially stressful time (Queen Jezebel imposed a death sentence on him), runs away to God’s holy mountain, a 40-day’s journey away.

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks. Elijah responds with a viable argument, but not the deepest truth within his heart.

Grazing in the Salmon River Mountains inspirational oil painting of deer in meadow by Steve Henderson

The top of a mountain is generally a solitary, peaceful place, and our soul communes with God there. Grazing in the Salmon River Mountains, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face, and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

“Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19: 11-13)

Activity, Noise, Distraction

I’m sure that Elijah, like the rest of us, preferred the noise and the activity, because as long as they were going on, he could pretend he didn’t hear anything else. He could drown his problems, or bury them, in distraction.

So often, when we finally decide to leave a situation — a bad relationship, a job, a friendship, a church fellowship — we immediately fill in the space that it used to take. One morning, we change our Facebook status from “In a Relationship” to “Single,” but by late afternoon, we’re “In a Relationship” again. In the old days, before we provided online details of our breakfast menu, people passed on gossip the hard way —  one by one:

“Did you see Eleanor with Ebenezer at the restaurant last night? I don’t even think her divorce with Edgar is final!” Sports crazy fanatics that we are (oh, more group activity!), we even have a term for this: rebound. It’s rarely considered a wise, ruminative, introspective move: how could it be?

Our Worship of Extroverts

We worship extroverts as normal; introverts as weird. And yet when it comes to thinking, is this a quality we associate with someone who is always in the midst of a crowd of people?

Light in the Forest inspirational oil painting two women girls with candles Celtic in woods by Steve Henderson

In silence we are able to think, meditate, pray, and . . . listen. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

Speaking of being in a crowd of people, this is a good description of Jesus, who was constantly followed about by just about everybody — his disciples, the blind, the lame, the scribes, the leaders, the hungry, the sick, and the relatives of the sick — and yet throughout the gospels, we are repeatedly told, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5: 16)

He sought solitude — because it was the best place to meet God — away from the voices, away from the noise, away from the distractions, away from the advice. A situation we consider bad — being alone — is something Christ made a regular part of His life.

We too can do this.

If you are leaving something — a person, a place, a thing — don’t be so quick about finding a replacement. Rest, instead, in the thought that you are not alone — you are NEVER alone — because God is with you, He hears the cry of every child, and responds to it.

Quite often, quite quietly.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am spending this middle part of my life unlearning all the stuff that was crammed into me in my younger years. In the process, I am slowly, yet firmly, finding the God of love, grace, mercy, compassion, and understanding that the Christian religious establishment promises, but doesn’t teach.

Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship — but in pursuing that relationship, you have to leave the religion behind.

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How Long Will We Let Other Christians Call Us Dogs?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Those of you who have lived with, or through, a fifteen-year-old girl know that adolescents of this age generally fight self-esteem issues. Call it hormones, peer pressure, society, or fat days, 15-year-old girls need a lot of love and reassurance that they are beautiful, beloved people.

Ruby inspirational oil painting chihuahua dog on pillow by Steve Henderson

Dogs are wonderful creatures, but it’s never a compliment, as a human, to be called one. Ruby, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

When one of our progeny was 15, in the midst of this exact stage, she was called a dog by a speaker brought in by our church. The speaker, who earned a generous living by organizing church mission trips through an International Church Mission Trip Organization Agency, gave a group of young people the Gary Smalley Personality Assessment Tool Test. (The young people were part of a church-induced “mission trip” to a Christian camp that was looking for free counselors for the season.)

Is Your Child a Dog?

Based upon this one-page sheet, in which participants score themselves from 0-3 points on whether or not they are a “problem solver,” “optimistic,” “adaptable,” “analytical,” and 72 other attributes, human beings — in this case, insecure, emotionally fragile adolescents — are labeled Lions, Beavers, Otters, or Golden Retrievers.

It’s all very pseudo-intellectual, scientific, and psychological, which is why so many Christians accept it as valid — more valid, say, than the astrological signs or the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac. I mean, the latter are heathen and pagan and all that, but anything Smalley propounds, or Kevin Leman and his birth order “science,” or Tim LaHaye and his four temperaments (is there something about Christian fads and the number four?) come pre-blessed because these authoritative leadership-types theoretically impart wisdom from “Christian psychology.”

Roaring, Ravenous Lions

Perhaps it will be no surprise to you (it wasn’t to us) that the dynamic, overbearing speaker was a LION, as was the strong, extroverted yet deeply meditative pastor of the church responsible for bringing the King of the Beasts in. (As an aside, dynamic leadership Lion types might note that not all references to the animal are necessarily positive, with 1 Peter 5: 8 coming immediately to mind:

“Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”)

Our daughter, who according to Leman’s birth order wisdom should be a natural leader (a LION) with a strong need for approval from anyone in charge (like a dog, now? Did I give birth to a knock-off chimera?) returned from the meeting subdued and vaguely depressed.

Lilac Festival inspirational oil painting of toddler girl with hat and dress picking flowers in the garden by Steve Henderson

All human beings are fearfully and wonderfully made, and they resist being categorized and classified. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“According to this test,” she said with a rueful smile, “I’m a dog. And not just any dog — I mean, I could handle being a Doberman or an Alaskan Husky — but I’m a Labrador Retriever.”

At the time we owned a Labrador Retriever: she was servile, submissive, obedient, docile, and acquiescent — in short, everything church leadership looks for in the majority of its congregation — and we had certainly never associated these attributes with our creative, funny, independent, spirited, stubborn, gorgeous firstborn.

Psycho-Garbage, Christianity-Style

“This is psycho-garbage,” we told her. “If it makes you feel any better, in the Chinese Zodiac you’re a Dragon, which does seem to match up with your morning personality.”

But the damage had been done, and while years have gone by and our daughter, and we, have moved on and away from Churchianity and the Christian Establishment Culture,  you always do remember being labeled as a dog. How this message has insinuated itself into the gospel of Christianity is baffling, but not really: it’s there because people allow it to be there.

Christian sisters and brothers: if you find yourself sitting in a pew (or interlocking chair) and given a “Christian Personality Test,” you don’t have to take it, any of it. There is nothing impolite, impolitic, rude, or wrong in standing up, excusing yourself as you work your way to the aisle, and walking out. What is rude, and wrong, abusive, insulting, and . . . evil, actually, are the people with the audacity (or, to be charitable, misguided ignorance) to think that they can label individual human beings and squeeze them into one of four boxes — whether it’s based upon your birth order, your birth date, or any series of questions that someone, who sells a lot of books based on the concept of the day, has set up.

“I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” Psalm 139 tells us. “When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

I am not a Lion, a Beaver, an Otter, or a Dog. A Mama Grizzly, now — I can see a few similarities.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I weep, sometimes, to see so many Christians associate faith with a blind, submissive attitude toward anyone who sets himself up as an authority. If we must label ourselves, let’s be Bereans (Acts 17: 13), who “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”

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Five Steps to Achieving Your Impossible Dream

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Ending the Day on a Good Note original oil painting with 1940s inspirational girl taking off hat next to gramophone by Steve Henderson

Part of achieving a dream generally involves simplifying our lives — a difficult concept in 21st century U.S. culture Christianity. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Sixteen years ago, my husband the Norwegian Artist and I had an improbable dream: we wanted to find a place in the country and raise our kids there.

I say improbable because 1) we had four kids and 2) we lived on one extremely moderate income. Most people we knew had half the amount of progeny and twice the number of jobs, and they were barely making it: lower middle class families with too many children need not apply for improbable dreams.

But the dream wouldn’t go away. Early in our search, we found the perfect piece of land, unfortunately beyond our economic reach. Today, however, I write you from our house — mortgage free — set on that exact piece of land. The realization of this dream achieved impels me through the next stage of my life because — you guessed it — we’ve got another wildly improbable dream in our lives, and we are approaching it with a similar mindset.

If you’re like us, and you’ve got a dream that won’t go away, maybe these five thoughts will help:

Pray

1) Talk to God about it. As soon as you mention a strong desire, someone is sure to say, “God puts those dreams in our hearts!” and while this is a sentiment you can find in a Joel Osteen statement, it’s not necessarily in the Bible.

What is in the Bible is that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. (Psalm 37:4) It’s the specifics, frequently, that need to be worked out:

She Danced by the Light of the Moon woman girl with cloth by Grand Canyon inspirational original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Stop trying to look, and act, like everyone else already. It never succeeds. Do things your own unique way. She Danced by the Light of the Moon, original oil painting; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord come the reply of the tongue.” (Proverbs 16: 1)

In other words, we can trust God to understand, more than we do, those deep, aching desires that simply will not go away — and to bring them to a fulfillment far more profound than anything we can imagine. Give your dream to God, and ask Him to walk you through it, step by step.

Be Unconventional

2) Don’t go about things in the expected manner. In our search for a country home, we knew we couldn’t afford the typical way of doing things: take out a loan on an existing house and spend 30 years paying it off. No bank would loan us that much — or, if they would (as they did prior to the 2007 housing bubble debacle) we at least had sense enough to know this was financially foolish.

Instead, we lived simply before it was fashionable, saving every penny and dime while our peers bought multiple cars and went out for dinner. When the sellers of the land we wanted, incessantly in need of money, split the property in two and raised the price on each — we snatched up the half-piece, with enough saved money to pay most of the purchase price. A bare land loan from a small local bank did the rest.

We built our house by sweat equity with a contractor who trained us to do a lot of the work ourselves. In the two years it took to get it livable, all six of us shared 1,000 square feet of rustically renovated barn living space. People — including many Christians — observed that we were “different” from anyone else they knew:

“Do not conform any more to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12: 2). This verse can be practically, as well as spiritually, applied.

Limit Your Networking

3) Share your dreams, with others, on a limited basis. There’s a fine line between telling enough people so that they can keep a lookout for opportunities, and laying your soul’s aches before, well, swine:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7: 6)

Three Horses inspirational oil painting of grazing in the mountains by Steve Henderson

While we wait, God feeds our souls, minds, and spirits. Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

There were a few friends and acquaintances we never told about our country dream, and even after we moved away we didn’t provide comprehensive updates. While they were nice people, they were also depressing ones, convinced that their ministry in life is to inform others how foolish they are to hope outside of convention, and delighting in pointing out obstacles that we were already well aware of. Today, with our new dream, very, very few people know the specifics.

Wait

4) Things take time.

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3: 25)

I hate waiting as much as the next person, but life goes on, and while we pursue what we can, step by step doing whatever is set before us, we also interact with our family, fix dinner, and feed the cats. The time spent waiting is not fruitless, and just because we can’t see results doesn’t mean that God isn’t working. If nothing else, waiting gives us time to grow, mature, change and adapt — as does our dream, when we continually give it back to God.

Trust

5) With God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19: 26)

If you wrote out all the obstacles to fulfilling this aching dream of yours, it would probably fill pages. While the difficulties may seem daunting, remember that you are not doing this on your own. Considering that your every breath is dependent upon God’s giving it to you (“In his hand is the life of every creature, and the breath of all mankind,” Job 12: 10), recognize that every aspect of your life is known, intimately, to God.

He can do anything, including getting you through all this.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, those prosperity preaches are rich for a reason — because their message tickles our ears and tells us what we want to hear. But this keeps us spiritually weak.

Our strength comes from depending upon God and God alone — reading His word, listening for His voice, leaning upon Him for every single breath we take.

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