Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

What If You’re Too Timid to Be “Bold for Christ”?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I became a Christian at 19. For the first 25 years, I diligently attended church services, which means that I came into regular contact with Christians comfortable in that setting, and for the last eight years, I have been transitioning into a more independent state, finding fellowship with seekers and believers in alternative formats.

Black kitten photo by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Small, weak, helpless and fragile — it’s okay, and honest, to feel this way. Our God is strong. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art

What I’ve encountered, in those 33 years, are far too many Christians who feel insecure, ineffective, inferior, timorous, and apprehensive. If there is any possible spiritual fault they could have, they’re convinced they’ve got it — they don’t have enough faith (Fault Number One), they don’t read the Bible enough (actually, this one is easily solved — just read the Bible more), or this one, which sounds like a Bible verse but isn’t:

“I am not bold enough for Christ.”

Search for It

Type “be bold for Christ” into a search engine and eventually you’ll find Ephesians 6:19-20, in which Paul states,

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly (boldly) make knows the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

Oh, yes, we sigh — I need to be bolder. That “ambassador in chains” part, however, is vaguely disquieting.

We also encounter Acts 4:29-31, in which the believers in Jerusalem prayed for courage in light of persecution from Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel:

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

What you will not find, however, is any verse that specifically says, “Be bold for Christ,” which is what many Christians hear from the pulpit, on TV, or in books. The end result for many is a continuous state of castigation:

Define “Bold”

“Why can’t I be bold for Christ?” (women, especially, ask themselves this a lot). “He died for me, and I’m such an ungrateful, cowardly little worm that I can’t go out and proclaim His message with boldness.”

Reflection inspirational original oil painting of young girl on beach with woman jumping in puddle by Steve Henderson

Actions don’t need to be big to be bold; the smallest steps, taken by the least powerful people, can be mighty indeed. Reflection, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Vision Art Galleries.

Well, first of all, it might be prudent to ask, what do you mean by, “being bold for Christ”?

If it involves handing religious tracts out to total strangers; or loudly announcing, “I believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ!” in your college classroom; or feeling obligated to answer questions like, “Would Jesus attend a Gay Pride Parade?” (belligerently argumentative challenges like this remind me of the Sadducees baiting Jesus with their specious questions about marriage and the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-33), then it’s understandable why you may feel a bit reluctant to jump in.

When we express misgivings about activities that we are assured are ministerial, and are then slapped with Luke 9:26 and told that we are ashamed of the Son of Man, it’s tempting to back down and acquiesce, but sometimes our reluctance to participate in an activity is because 1) it really doesn’t fit our personality at all and/or 2) our commonsense tells us that we ourselves don’t like being accosted by strangers and put on the spot, so maybe that’s why we don’t want to do it to others.

Individual Action

In a society of Christians where the majority find their meaning and identity in a corporate religious setting, it’s very easy to be pushed, prodded, pressed and compelled into doing things that somebody else — a leader, a speaker, an elder, a teacher, the Pope — deems worthy to be done — “for Christ” — and when we don’t want to do it, we are made to feel at fault.

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

That’s a really good place to start, and believing in Him whom God has sent involves getting to know Who, and What, He is, with a logical consequence that we pick up the Bible and read about Him. Going straight to the source is always a good choice, and when each individual believer makes a commitment to learn about God, directly, from His Word, the world winds up with more and stronger believers.

Direct Communication with Christ

Once we get into the habit of dealing directly with Christ, without a human intermediary, we can then address Him with our concerns about our timidity, lack of faith, insecurity, doubts, fears, anxieties, and all the other very real aspects of being a human being. The more we know about Him and grow into loving Him, the more we will naturally talk about him — “naturally” is a key word here, because just tossing His name about as if people will pick up spiritual vibes through hearing, “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” in conversation, is one of those misconceptions that drives people into thinking that they’re not “bold enough for Christ,” when really, they’re just sensible enough to recognize artificiality when they see it.

As we commune with God in prayer, and grow in knowledge through reading Scripture, our Father will open our eyes to the things that we are uniquely set up to do for Him. This won’t seem difficult or unnatural because we are effectively living our lives, every one of our actions and words imbued with and influenced by the spirit of God that dwells within us and which we have taken time to get to know. We may decide to write a letter to the editor — not necessarily on a specific spiritual issue — but about an injustice we see, and our perspective on it.

Or we may comment, within a conversation, “I disagree with the concept that all people living in a particular country are bad, and that civilians ‘accidentally’ killed in a bombing raid are ‘collateral damage.'”

Bit by bit, we do a little more, are willing to take a slight risk, get slapped back by criticism, fall down, and lick our wounds. And then, by golly, we get up again and keep walking, keep living our lives by the truths we absorb when we study and get to know God and find that — while we may never cease being a bit afraid — we can put that fear in God’s hands, safely, and know that He won’t condemn us.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where years ago, I used to feel like a failure because I’m a quiet person, and I don’t like speaking up in group meetings. And then I realized that I spoke to, and with, people throughout the day — one on one, one on three — and that a well-placed, and genuinely meant, smile worked wonders.

God has made all sorts of people, capable of doing all sorts of things. If the only food available were chocolate chip cookies, that would get really boring — and unhealthy — in very short space of time.

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Why Ordinary Christians Can — and Should — Speak up

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When you live in a small town with a major employment base being the school district, you’re not particularly popular when you speak against the party line. But since the friends you make by constantly agreeing with others aren’t real friends, I had no problem writing a letter to the editor against a $20 million bond (you got that right — a $20 million bond in a county of 4,000 people), outlining why it wasn’t such a good idea.

Most people in the world are ordinary, and they have valuable things to teach, if we are willing to listen. The Kitchen Maid, by Johannes Vermeer

Most people in the world are ordinary, and they have valuable things to teach, if we are willing to listen. The Kitchen Maid, by Johannes Vermeer

While I was prepared to be vilified, shunned, laughed at, or ignored (these are all strategies used to quiet dissent), I was surprised by the number of people who stopped me, literally, in the street, and thanked me for writing the letter.

“I’m on a fixed income, and there’s no way I could afford this,” was the general statement, consistently followed by — after I encouraged them to write a letter of their own — “I couldn’t do that — the pro-school lobby, you know. I can’t risk the backlash.”

Welcome to the world of speaking up.

Afraid to Speak or Write

There are a lot of voices out there — pro-this, anti-that — but reality is, the ones you hear the most are those that are funded the best — so it is with any school levy: because the opposition does not have the coordinated lobbying force with corresponding dollars to print signs and buy advertising space, its primary voice consists of individual people, one by one, writing letters and speaking up, those who aren’t afraid to, that is.

Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (in this case, the levy — which even the proponents knew to be outrageous — failed, but don’t worry: they’ll be back, and back, and back, trimming and finessing until they get what they were after in the first place), but the sheer forces against us can’t discourage us to the point that we shut up.

Voices, Clamoring Like a Cymbal

Within Christianity, there are many many voices telling us all sorts of things: how to pray, how to not pray, how to read the Bible and with what study resource, how we should vote, whom we should hate or be afraid of, what qualifications it takes to be a “leader,” and how important it is to follow those leaders. Mega-pastors and celebrity Christians meet with political principals, visit the pope, and purport to speak for all believers when they push domestic and international policy issues.

There is a strong message, aimed at the sheep, to render obeisance to these leaders: buy their books, listen to their radio programs, be one of the thousands in the football stadium at their event, follow their teaching because they, somehow, have greater wisdom and learning than others. No part of our lives is too private or intimate for their not to have an opinion on it; we look to them for advice on how to use our faith to raise our children, interact with our boss, manage our finances, and lose weight the Christ-sanctioned way.

And we acquiesce to their expertise because you can’t argue with credentials:

Expert Voices

“These people are men and women of God,” we are told. “They have studied the Word and they have the letters they need after their name.

“Have you gone to seminary? Then what makes you think that you can speak about spiritual truth?” Acquiring truth, it is impressed upon us, requires attending institutions created and run by men, with the ultimate goal of earning a piece of paper because one has taken the classes, written the papers, and done what one was instructed by those men. This is about as logical as saying that you can’t write a letter to the editor about a school bond unless you are a teacher.

The next time someone says that you are unqualified to speak out about spiritual matters, trot out this name:

“The Nation’s Most Influential Evangelical Leader”

James Dobson.

Wikipedia describes this author and political figure, who was phenomenally instrumental in introducing psychology into Christian circles, as being,

“In the 1980s . . .  ranked one of the most influential spokesmen for conservative social positions in American public life.”

It goes on to say,

“Although never an ordained minister, he was called ‘the nation’s most influential evangelical leader’ by Time while Slate portrayed him as a successor to evangelical leaders Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson.”

You Can Figure Out How To Raise Your Kids

Did you get the part about, “never an ordained minister”? And yet this man is revered, in some circles, as integrating God’s truth with psychology, not to mention politics.

Beachside Diversions inspirational original oil painting of woman with hat adjusting girl's shawl on ocean beach by Steve Henderson

You know more than you think about raising your kids, if you’d just give commonsense, and reading the Bible for yourself and learning from it, a chance. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, and Vision Art Galleries.

Thousands of families have raised their children with his books in one hand but not necessarily the Bible in the other, dependent upon him — through “Christian” psychology — to tell them how to do this “scientifically,” without ever asking whether or not they could achieve parental wisdom themselves, simply by reading the Bible, praying, and asking God, for guidance.

You may or may not agree with Dobson; you may or may not even know who he is (“Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” — Psalm 144:4), but the point is this:

He spoke up on matters of Christianity, and he’s not an ordained minister. His lack of ministerial credentials was no impediment to his being embraced, accepted, promoted, and promulgated as a voice for Christianity, and the very argument levied against ordinary, everyday Christians — that they have no ministerial qualifications — was not an issue when it came to him.

So why is it such an issue when it comes to ordinary, committed, mature, Christians?

It isn’t, unless we allow it to be so.

While it’s a given that, as ordinary people who work regular jobs and are limited by a lack of funding, promotional influence, and media attention, we will not be heard as well as the Celebrity Christians, it is for this very reason that it’s so important that we everyday, real Christians speak up — in letters to the editor, in blogs, at the church annual meeting — because otherwise, we leave the voice of Christianity to very, very few, and there is no guarantee that those very, very few are speaking, and teaching, true Christianity.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my consistent message to individual Christians is this: be strong in Christ by focusing you attention on that relationship. Read the Bible for yourself. Pray, every day and continuously, for God’s wisdom.

Learn from others — who earn your respect because they are wise and humble — but never let respect tip over into worship.

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The Discipline of God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Discipline is an ambiguous word, easily misunderstood because its two major applications are so at variance with one another.

In a good sense, discipline is what athletes do — training their bodies to achieve top performance through practice, hard work, persistence, attention to diet and daily living habits — in short, they demand much of themselves without approaching punishment. Anyone who chooses to do something well — fine art painting, knitting, gardening, cooking — disciplines themselves in such a way to achieve top performance.

Discipline is a lifestyle, on a daily basis pushing ourselves to be better, stronger, wiser, more perseverant. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art

Discipline is a lifestyle, on a daily basis pushing ourselves to be better, stronger, wiser, more perseverant. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art

In a bad sense, discipline involves hitting, striking, slapping, whipping, beating — something we associate wicked masters doing to slaves, or creepy reprobates inflicting upon dogs — and the ultimate goal is punishment as opposed to growth. This is not a diatribe upon spanking versus not spanking, so much as it is an observance that discipline — when its primary goal is punishment and/or humiliation — doesn’t work. The bad behavior may be arrested, but the person hit by the same hand that caresses experiences — logically — a sense of confusion, and fear. Is that hand good? Or is it bad?

Spare the Rod . . .

Like any Christian who has spent time in a fundamentalist establishment setting, I’m well aware of verses like Proverbs 13:24 —

“He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him,” and I have overheard more information than I would like about leather strops versus wooden spoons. Verses like these, however — which seem to contradict the loving, merciful, and wise judging nature of God — may be interpreted in various ways. There is enough evidence that the “rod” — which in the beloved Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) isn’t used to beat the sheep — is figurative, and that’s fine by me.

Proverbs 3:11 tells us,

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

A Different Kind of Fear of God

For many Christians, the word “despise” in the above verse could be replaced with “abjectly fear,” and when one’s idea of discipline involves the energetic application of a belt or a switch, it’s understandable that one would be afraid, very afraid, of being beaten by God.

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl with green hat in garden with radishes by Steve Henderson

Children are fragile, and correcting them must be done wisely. So it is with God, toward His children. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Vision Art Galleries.

When one looks at discipline in the light of definition A, above, however, one can deal with this: no father needs or wants lazy, complacent, disobedient, careless children, and the best solution when one experiences behavior like this is not to immediately pull out a stick. A wise father can find a more creative — and effective — means of disciplining a child to be a better person, in the same way that a good athlete pushes himself, hard, but not to the point of injury.

Because many Christians are focused on the concept of sin, sin, and more sin, any time they falter or fail, they automatically consider themselves wicked and evil, fully deserving of the very worst that God could inflict. But let’s look at a definition of evil, again from Proverbs, which describes wicked men,

Real Evil 

“whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.” (Proverbs 2:12-14)

This is evil in its top form — men, and women, working behind the scenes, using their money and influence to ruin the lives of others while they stay quietly in the background, amassing more wealth and power. They. Hurt. Innocents.

And yet, when we pursue a line of thought that is envious and bitter, or we take a sip of wine when we think we shouldn’t, or we honestly hurt another person by a careless word — we are not at such a level of evil that we deserve the wrath awaiting those who traffic in pure, unadulterated hate, their lives ruled by their worship of the prince of darkness, as opposed to the Prince of Peace.

But we think that’s what we’re going to get.

Retracting the Claws

Is it any wonder that people — Christians and non-Christians — have difficulty understanding, and embracing, the deep, holy, pure, beautiful, unconditional love of God when, at any time, they are afraid of being kicked by Him?

Last night we watched a nature show about polar bears, and it showed a 600-pound mother bear cradling — with those massive, scary paws — her 20-ounce (that’s the size of a bottle of soda) newborn. I was in awe at how gently this powerful giant nurtured the fragility of innocence.

Later, when the cubs were older, one received a cuff from mom, enough to knock it over and get the message across, but decidedly and definitely not the full force of what mom’s mitts could do. The full force would kill.

The reason we do not have to be afraid of the Lord’s discipline is because, like a truly wise and loving Father, He uses the best means of getting our attention, and teaching us in the way we should go. Discipline is not always pleasant — ask any knitter if they enjoy pulling out rows and rows of stitches because they made a mistake five inches back and tried to ignore it — but its result is a stronger, wiser person.

God does not give us cancer. He does not send tornadoes on top of our house. He does not make us lose our job. He does not inflict random, appalling pain upon us that mirrors what men do to one another — but within our circumstances of pain, He speaks, corrects, leads, urges, encourages, and gives us a firm push in the direction we should go.

We do not have to be afraid of Him.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to ask questions — of each other, of the evening news, of God — and not accept answers that don’t satisfy. Too easily, we shrug our shoulders and say, “That doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t seem fair or right, but, oh well, ‘God’s ways are not our ways.'”

No, they’re not. They’re better. When they seem worse, then maybe they’re not God’s ways.

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Yes or No: Does God Hear Our Prayers?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We’ve all had days when we wish that we were back in bed, before we even climb out of it. Not long ago, I faced a situation — not a major one, but not so minor that it wouldn’t add its weight of stress — that looked like it would be either A) very bad or B) not particularly good.

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

Standing, sitting, kneeling, driving — we pray at all times and in all places, and God hears them all. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

As I sat in the car, I prayed: “God. Get me through the next several hours. I’m tired; I have no strength, energy, wisdom, or creativity, and I really can’t add much more to my plate right now.”

And then it was time to enter the lion’s den.

Hours later, I emerged, not necessarily whistling — because I can’t whistle — but relieved, grateful, and even cheerful. Earlier in the car, when I was faced with the options of A or B, I had forgotten that God usually has an Option C. It’s the one that unfolds when we can’t see beyond this or that, and it happens so consistently, I wonder why I persist in seeing life as either/or.

The Big, Big Prayer

That night, as I was praying, I thanked God for this unexpected Option C before I turned to some serious meditation and prayer about a long-term request that means a whole, whole lot to me, but just. doesn’t. progress. I don’t sweat tears, but I do ache with a desire for something that is so deep, so unyielding, and so absolutely impossible that sheer logic says that I should give it up, but I can’t.

I’ve offered it up, but He never takes it back. Enough happens — small, incremental things — that I keep walking, but some days, I wonder if this trail will ever reach its destination. Before I die, that is.

As I was praying, the question popped into my mind:

“John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men?”

Wow. That’s really random.

Putting Jesus on the Spot

The query stems from Mark 11:27-34 (parallel verses in Luke 20:1-8 and Matthew 21:23-27) in which the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders demand of Jesus,

Peace inspirational original oil painting of canoe on Wallowa Lake near mountains by Steve Henderson

When we ask for help from heaven, and help comes, do we believe that heaven heard, and answered? What about when the answer is different than what we’re hoping for? Peace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art and Vision Art Galleries.

“‘By what authority are you doing these things?’ they asked. ‘And who gave you authority to do this?'”

Since the passage immediately preceding has to do with clearing the temple, it’s highly likely that the Jewish leaders are referring to this, as well as to Jesus’s controversial teaching within that temple. Anytime you block moneymakers from raking in their profits, they get upset, but I couldn’t see how Jesus’s interaction with dishonest, disingenuous, insecure, crafty, clever, and scheming men who were using religion to fund their aspirations and ambition had anything to do with my long-term desire that just won’t go away.

“‘John’s baptism — was it from heaven, or from men? Tell me!’

“They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Then why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say, “from men . . . 

“(They feared the people, for everyone held that John was really a prophet.)” (Mark 11:30-32)

Yes? or No?

The question is essentially this: is it from God, or not? Make a choice.

In my own situation, it looked like this:

I started my day out troubled, and before I entered the lion’s den I prayed. I emerged relieved, because my prayer was answered.

So, that answer to prayer: was it from God? Or was it just a coincidence?

If it was from God, and He heard and answered my prayer, then why do I doubt that He hears, or cares about, my primary, aching prayer?

If it wasn’t from God, then why did I bother praying in the first place?

Poor Sherlock Holmes . . .

Too often, it is easy to discount an answer to prayer because it looks logical, and we tell ourselves — afterward — that of course it worked out okay, because that’s the way that makes sense. We forget, however, that prior to the solution, when we were walking blind, we saw no acceptable answer. It reminds me of the Sherlock Holmes stories, in which listeners are amazed at Holmes’ ability to deduce the facts, until he tells them how he got them.

“Oh,” we comment. “Is that all?”

Revelation 8:3-4 tells us that the prayers of the saints are as incense before God: “The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel’s hand.”

Psalm 141:2 says, “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”

Incense is not something that can be easily ignored: it is strong, pungent, and very much present in the room. We can be confident that, when we pray, God hears us, and His eyes “are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34:15)

Earlier in this essay I mentioned Option A or Option B, and how we frequently forget that, within any situation, God works through Option C or D, but when it comes to whether God is real or not, or whether He hears us cry or not, we’re back to Option A or B:

Does God hear us, or not?

The baptism of John — was it from heaven, or from men?

While the religious leaders refused to answer, I have an idea that they knew, perfectly well, that the solution was Option A. But their hearts were too hard to admit it.

I don’t want to be like these people.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where, every day, I am learning more about God’s grace: He doesn’t expect me to lie about my feelings — to myself or Him — He wants me to put them before Him so that He can teach me, lead me, and show me the true depth of His love.

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