Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

God. God? GOD! Are You There?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

At no point, ever, are we walking on the beach all by ourselves. God is always with us, although He may be silent. Reflection, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Last month I regaled you with tales of my two hours in the Dentist Chair (God, the Dentist), and how we find spiritual lessons in the oddest places.

This month found me in that chair again, for only an hour and three-quarters, and lest you think that I am a Twinkie fiend or something, I am paying for the sins and indiscretions of my youth.

(Twenty-some ago, when most of my fillings — which now need to be replaced — were put in, I had a tendency to be 1) pregnant, 2) craving graham crackers with peanut butter and chocolate chips, and 3) not too good about flossing.

I’m a fairly unexciting person, you know, and even my youthful indiscretions are boring.)

Feeling Numb

This time in the chair, I spent less time thinking deep thoughts as I did wondering when it would all be done so that I could use the bathroom. Afterwards, however, I meditated on my numbed condition:  although people assured me that I was drool-free and they could indeed, understand my speech, I felt my lack of feeling.

“Remember, the bottom left of your mouth is numb, so don’t chew  it up,” the helpful assistant reminded.

There’s a reason they tell you that, because although you honestly can’t feel anything, this doesn’t mitigate the damage teeth can do on soft tissue. This is one case of many when how you feel, or don’t feel as the case may be, is not an accurate representation of reality.

So it is with God. It is a part of our human experience that we frequently we don’t feel that He is there. More frequently, it is when we need Him most that we feel Him the least.

Has He abandoned us?

We Are Not Orphans

No. Never. But it’s time for faith: operating on what we know, as opposed to what we feel, and what we know is this:

If Santa can remember the dog and cat, then God can remember — not only the sparrows — but you and me. And He does a lot more than fill our stockings. Something for Everyone, original painting by Steve Henderson; signed limited edition print, poster.

He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31: 8) For many of us, this is one of the few verses we can quote by heart, along with “Jesus wept,” and even if we can’t cite the actual verse location, its very assertiveness gives us confidence.

You’ll find variations of this promise in Hebrews 13: 5 (“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”), Joshua 1: 9 (“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”), and Matthew 28: 20 (“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”).

Old Testament, New Testament — over and over again God promises that He is with us, now, and will never leave us, ever. His words are true, and sometimes, they are all that we have to go on, because circumstances look rough, and feelings are non-existent.

What We Know, not What We Feel

But if we don’t know the words, we can’t be comforted by them, which is one reason why it’s a good reason to pull out your Bible and read it — not because God will punish you if you don’t, but because He made a point of writing about Himself and supplying us with that publication.

In Exodus 34: 6-7, God allows Moses to glimpse His glory, and as He walks past, He says,

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

When I was younger I thought about this verse, “What a vain thing to say. Why is God bragging on Himself?”

As a wiser person I realize, no, He’s not bragging about Himself, He’s telling us about Himself, and what He’s telling us is that He’s compassionate, loving, and faithful. This is information that we don’t intrinsically know, and without this intellectual assurance, our feelings will mislead us into thinking that He’s forgotten us, because we don’t see Him, hear Him, taste Him, smell Him.

But we have His words, and His words are true.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about living real life, as a real Christian, in the 21st century. Unless you’re a church rat, you’ll notice that most of your life is spent living at your home, workplace, and general societal locations as opposed to the pew, which is why I encourage Christians to think for themselves, talk to God throughout the day, and focus on the strength of their individual relationship to Him.

He doesn’t give points for Bible study attendance or small group participation, preferring, instead, to walk closely with us and guide us through each moment of the day.

Posts similar to this one are

Feeling Abandoned?

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” Yuck.

High Anxiety: Conquer Your Fear

God, the Dentist

 

Salvation Is Free. Our Time Is Not.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When it comes to the word, “free,” let’s focus on this image of freedom, as opposed to the concept of not paying people for their time and skill. Spirit of the Canyon by Steve Henderson.

Too many Christians have a thing about the word “free.”

When it comes to the free gift of salvation that Jesus willingly hands us, we’re convinced that there’s a catch somehow, and it seriously can’t be as easy as it sounds.

Yes, we’re saved, but in order to “prove” that we are involves a lot of work, and what that work is depends upon the denomination to which a person belongs. Across the board, church attendance seems to be mandatory; I ran into one man who quoted Hebrews 10:26, the verse immediately after the famously misused “forsake not the assembling of one another,” to justify that Christians who don’t go to church are going to hell instead.

Well, that’ll fill the pews.

Another Kind of “Free”

On the other hand, when it comes to services and products that do cost money, the concept of “free” becomes well understood indeed. Regardless of what you do, it’s highly likely that you have been obliquely yet firmly requested to provide your service, skill, or product to “the church,” without charge,  because

1) You’re a Christian,

2) Christians are supposed to support “the church,” which generally means the particular group and its subsequent building that we are involved in,

3) A Christian’s “ministry” is wrapped around what leadership of the attended congregation says it is,

and

A Bible Verse That Isn’t in the Bible

4) The Bible tells us to “be good stewards of God’s money,” another one of those verses in the book of Obligations, often attributed to Luke 16: 10-13 (look it up, the term, “good stewards of God’s money,” does not appear), and generally applied to extract more money from church attendees for — not orphans, widows, the poor and downtrodden — but additional church programs.

If you’re a plumber, and the building you find yourself in on Sundays has a bathroom, you know where you’ll be on Saturday.

Time with our families and the people God has put into our lives is a much overlooked, unappreciated, ministry. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Unskilled labor? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of work for you.

Even artists, normally considered the most useless of God’s creatures, have a purpose. At one church we attended, the Norwegian Artist created, for free, a logo, letterhead, and business cards for the pastor, who wanted a more professional, businesslike look.

Business? Or Ministry? They Can Co-Exist

Unfortunately, the businesslike attitude did not extend to offering to pay for professional services, although I’m sure that the pastor did not expect his dentist, his doctor, or his auto mechanic to work for free.

(Interestingly, years later the pastor contacted us, via his secretary, and wanted to know if the Norwegian could “do a few updates and changes.”

“Do you know that the Norwegian Artist hasn’t set foot inside of your church for three years?” I asked the hapless mediator. “It looks to me that the CEO is far more interested in the Norwegian’s work, as opposed to the Norwegian himself.”

We never heard from them again.)

I know. Churches are non-profit entities, and if they paid everyone for what they did, they’d never make it. But if all Christian business people are expected to provide free services to all Christian entities, as part of “the Lord’s work,” then we won’t make it either.

“The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5: 18)

Giving, at Our Discretion

Every time a person provides, for free, services to an organization, it takes away from services he could provide, for free, to a widow, an orphan, or a person in financial need. As far as ministries go, I would much rather invest my time and skills in people, not programs.

And as far as ministries go, the local church congregation can lead the way by placing a value on the work done by its members, and severely limiting the amount it asks its people to do for free. Church members have families, jobs, household chores, and lives — all of which they regularly subvert when the pastor, or the elder, or the improvement committee, calls upon them to do “the Lord’s work,” as if the lives they are already living do not represent that work.

Salvation is free: a beauteous gift bountifully bestowed on humanity by a generous and loving God.

As recipients of this gift, let us be known, as well, for our bounteous generosity — not our parsimonious cheapness.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I seek, through essays, to distinguish between Christianity, and our culture’s interpretation of it. The latter is a substitute for the real thing — a form of idolatry, actually — and it is part of our journey to find the real Christ, the real message, the real road to God.

This is an individual journey, my friend, taken with Jesus leading the way, and while we can learn from others — sermons, books, teachers, even essays like this — we ultimately learn, one on one, at Jesus’ feet.

Posts similar to this one are

Just How Naked Do I Have to Get?

The Dissident Christian: Does This Describe You?

Break away from Controlling People

Christianity Is Simpler Than You Think

 

Don’t Worry: It’s NOT All up to You

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We are not doomed to wander, leaderless, from day to day and place to place. Working Trigger, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Pretend, for a moment, that you’re a horse.

Not an old plug, swaybacked and ugly, so derelict that nobody even wants you for free. I mean, seriously, God loves you as his beautiful, precious daughter or son, so once in awhile, can’t we think of ourselves as something better than tapeworms?

So you’re a horse: strong, proud, muscular, gloriously free. With a neigh of joy you gallop mightily through the plains, your powerful hooves pounding the grasslands as you run spirited and exultant. You are God’s workmanship, designed to do marvelous things.

That’s quite an image, isn’t it? So much better than a tapeworm. Now, let’s add on to it:

Travel Directions

From your meadow kingdom, let’s call it Mighty Horse Meadow, you need to travel 90 miles north to a city called The City to the North. Now being a horse, with a horse’s intellect and fundamental inability to read maps or comprehend the clipped British voice directions on the GPS, there’s no way you’re going to find that city, no matter how strong and muscular and powerful and gloriously exultant you are. When it all comes down to it, you’re still a horse, and without direction, you don’t even know that you need to be in that city, much less possess the ability to find it.

Not without a rider, that is.

But with a rider — a wise, caring, horse-whisperer type owner who fully understands the value and worth of a creature like you, you’ll make it to that city, because the rider will direct you there.

The Horse and Rider

So, you’re the horse, and the rider is God. Between the two of you, you will go to many and varied places, and you don’t have to worry that you don’t have the ability and intellect of the Rider, because as long as you listen to the Rider and take direction from Him, you’ll get where you need to go.

Despite being highly intelligent, horses are unable to plan out a trip from Point A to Point B, and get there. When it all comes down to it, neither are we. A Peaceful Nibble, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

In an earlier post, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves. Yuck,” I discussed our tendency, especially in highly materialistic cultures, to think that everything is up to us, and when we’re not wildly, materialistically, and monetarily successful, we put it down to our being failures, because we’re not working long enough, hard enough, smart enough, or cunningly enough — all attributes that materialistic cultures rate highly.

But that’s not God’s way. God’s way, actually, is that we recognize our weakness, our inability, our limitations, our sheer frailness of being human and mortal, and depend upon Him. He’s the One who has the strength, acumen, wisdom, and ability, and by submitting to Him, we can get out of Mighty Horse Meadow and on the road to Somewhere:

God Directs Us in the Way We Should Go

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go,” Isaiah 48: 17 reassures us. And 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.”

And Jeremiah 29: 11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’”

“Okay, okay, I get the point,” we say. But, being highly materialistic, driven people, our general objection to fully depending upon God is this:

“God doesn’t expect me to just sit around and do nothing while He works miracles in my life.”

Well, that’s true, but 95 percent of the truth isn’t the full truth, and the full truth is that you’re a horse, and the Rider does not expect you to get from Mighty Horse Meadows to The City to the North without some work on your part, so don’t focus on the lounge chair and the glass of iced tea yet. You’ll be working, quite hard depending upon the terrain, but always under the direction and guidance of the Rider.

Given that He knows everything — past, present, and future — and we do not, this is probably a pretty good division of labor.

 Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my goal is to encourage Christians and seekers to recognize grace when they see it, and realize that it’s something they have right now and don’t have to buy, earn, or deserve by a series of man-made requirements and obligations.

Posts similar to this one are

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves. Yuck,”

What Unconditional Love Looks Like (at my companion blog, This Woman Writes)

Money, Power, Fame and Name

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” Yuck.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Wouldn’t you like to feel a bit more like this in your Christian life — sassy, classy, confident that you can walk straight onto the beach because God is with you there? Oddly, the less you depend upon yourself, the more confident you can be. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Okay, let’s find a Bible verse. Ready?

“God helps those who help themselves.”

I’ll give you a few minutes to look, but to save you time, you’ll find it in 2 Obligations 13: 36,  right before the “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” verse.

And if you’re looking for 2 Obligations, you won’t find that in the Bible anywhere, which means that you don’t have to incorporate it, or 1 Obligations, into your life. Neither of these statements, no matter how much they align with the way we believe in the U.S. culture into which I was born, is biblical or necessarily true.

But modern, materialist culture is firmly imbued with the idea that whatever success we achieve in life is due to our own efforts, and if we are not successful — i.e., wealthy — then it’s our fault because we’ve been lazy:

“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10: 4)

Gosh, there must be a lot of lazy people in the world. And there sure are a lot rich people, who don’t look or act particularly kind, who must be Christians because they’re so successful.

Focus on the Whole, as Well as the Parts

When we read the Bible, it’s important to recognize that it’s a book, and the whole thing says something, not just individual verses that we cherry pick (or, in the case of our Obligations verses, invent out of nothing). And when you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, you encounter several themes, one of which is that God is in control — of everything — and that includes our lives. To achieve success — which in His terms doesn’t necessarily translate into money — we need to cede to Him that control.

Listen to what God says about us, and Him:

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48: 17) While you’re at it, start with Isaiah chapter 40, and read all the way to 50 and beyond. Much of what the prophet is discussing there has to do with events that will happen 100 years hence from his writing, and three basic themes emerge:

Three Things to Think about

1) God not only knows the future, he plans and directs it. (I know — that’s a rough one to wrap our minds around, but He’s in complete control, or He’s not, And if He’s not, then who else is sharing power with Him?)

We are His people, holy and dearly beloved. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

2) Idols — whether they are made of wood, bronze, or paper with the saying “In God We Trust” blazoned across the back — are powerless, so calling on them for help defies reason.

3) God’s people – the children of Abraham, who are not limited to the Hebrews of the 7th century B.C. but include the Christians of today (1 Peter 2: 9-10) – are dearly loved. Isaiah 43: 4 tells us, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” I don’t know who the men in question are, but I do know that this sounds like a promise to ransom. You don’t put out resources for people who aren’t worth something to you.

Oh, That PLAN We Always Hear about

Many of us have heard the phrase, “God has a PLAN for your life,” (2 Obligations 16: 14), and while this in true — in the way that hard work is important — it misses the mark in the way all of Obligation’s verses do.

God has a plan, period. He Rules. He Rocks.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45: 6-7)

And lest we think, “Well, Dang. He’s got a plan, I’m in it somehow, and I don’t have any say in the matter,” consider Isaiah 41: 13-14.

” . . . I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you. Do not be afraid . . . for I myself will help you.”

Your Dreams Are No Secret to God

I know you’ve got things you want to do. So do I. And God knows this; indeed, He created us with certain skills, abilities, desires and dreams. Isn’t it good to know, though, that it isn’t all on your shoulders, that it isn’t all dependent upon your cleverness and intelligence and resources and connections?

Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve run up against a brick wall — or a Red Sea — enough times to know that I am very finite in all the major ways: intelligence, resourcefulness, power, wisdom and the very ability to draw my next breath, and it’s good to know that Someone who isn’t limited at all, is holding my hand.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about the challenges of actually living the words that we say we believe. Part of this challenge involves actually reading the words ourselves, and talking to God about them (prayer), as opposed to relying upon a weekly church service or books by Christian celebrities to learn about God.

If you go to church, that’s great — just don’t lapse into complacency that everything you’re told there is all that you need to know. God wants to talk to you directly, without any intermediaries.

Posts that complement this one are

Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books (Isaiah, which I mention in the article above, is a challenging book to get through, and if all you read in your off-time are “Christian” genre books which have the lamentable tendency to be written at a less than challenging reading level, you’ll avoid the Bible because it’s too difficult. But many an educated person in the past learned to read exclusively by reading the Bible, so there’s hope even for our generation.)

High Anxiety: Conquer Your Fear (Worry isn’t a sin so much as it is a bad lifestyle choice. Let’s get past it and grab onto this joy we keep hearing about: it involves trust and prayer.)

God, the Dentist (In the same way that even a great dentist can’t fill his own teeth, we really can’t live our lives without the guidance and wisdom of God.)

 

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