Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

The Dissident Christian: Does This Describe You?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We cannot be lights in the world if we allow people’s taunts to dampen our flame. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

It doesn’t take much to be a dissident to today’s society.

All it involves are two things:

1) Asking questions

and

2) Refusing to passively accept everything that we are told.

At an art museum, a dissident viewer is one who asks the guide, “Why, specifically, is this painting so famous and expensive? In all honesty, it does look like something my 8-year-old could do.”

In a university science class, it looks like this, “But professor, Darwin himself admitted that not just one, but many many ‘missing links’ would need to be found to confirm the accuracy of his theory. Given that, in all this time and with all the research put into it, we haven’t found one, what does this mean?”

Around the water cooler: “If Democrats and Republicans are so diametrically and radically different, why does nothing ever really change for the better, regardless of who is in control?”

At church: “I don’t agree with many points on the pastor’s last sermon, which isolated a few verses out of context, and seemed to be pushing me into behaving a certain way. If I choose to give my money to a woman I know whose electricity will be shut off if her bill isn’t paid, as opposed to writing a check to the church this month, am I really sinning?”

Don’t Shut Up

Many times, the response to our asking questions is a variation of,

Our Horizon is as large, or small, as we choose to make it. Think big. On the Horizon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“Shut up! You don’t know the full story, so you have no right to speak,” which totally ignores the fact that you were simply asking a question, not propounding an opinion.

When it comes to religious situations, we’re too full of grace to say, “Shut up,” but the second aspect — that you don’t know what you’re talking about so please leave the thinking up to me — still emerges.

People asking questions are dangerous, because they upset the status quo, and one of the best ways to silence potential troublemakers is to put them on the spot or ridicule them. Since most of us don’t relish looking like fools, this method is remarkably effective in squashing potential opposition.

Yes, We’re “Fools”

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians, spends a significant amount of time comparing foolishness versus wisdom, from the perspective of humanity and that of God, and urges,

“If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise.” (1 Corinthians 3: 18)

Jesus in John 15: 18-19 tells us,

“If the world hates, you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates, you.”

It will mock you, disparage you, discourage you, and ridicule you for the way you live and the questions you ask — and quite unfortunately, the world’s influence is not exempt from religious circles. For this reason, while it is important to interact with other Christians and encourage one another (which many people associate with church attendance), it is equally important to maintain a strong, independent, and private relationship with God.

DIY Christianity

This means that, while a pastor’s sermon or elder’s Sunday school class may provide enlightenment, teaching, and wisdom, it is not infallible, and the ultimate responsibility to read, and understand, God’s Word is yours. This isn’t as frightening as it sounds, because you have three powerful resources to accomplish this task:

1) The Holy Spirit lives within each and every Christian, and this Spirit of Truth “will guide you into all truth.” (1 John 16: 5)

2) You have an innate level of intelligence that enables you to analyze, critique, question, research, and learn.

3) You have a Bible written in the language that you speak. If this were the 13th century, and the only Bible in town were written in Latin, which you don’t read, there would be justification in the accusation that, “You don’t know what this book says.” Do not allow this sentence to be replaced by, “You don’t have seminary training or a PhD in theology, so you really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Christians: we’re supposed to be salt. Salt changes the flavor of the food around it. This means that there’s no way we can jump into the stew without changing the way it tastes.

Ask. Seek. Knock. This command from Matthew 7: 7 isn’t limited to the people at the top of the pyramid. It’s directed to all of us.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity; if you like what you read, I encourage you to subscribe (top right, menu bar).

If you are a Christian, the world needs you, doing whatever it is God asks you to do each day — and you won’t know what work He has for you if you don’t ask Him. You are an important, valued, and precious member of God’s family — regardless of how unimportant you look by conventional human standards. Remember — God thinks differently than we do, and the closer we draw to Him, the more He can teach us to think this way as well.

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Break away from Controlling People

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Think free. Live Free. Give yourself the gift of independent thought. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

It’s not too late to give yourself the gift that you will treasure throughout your life, wrapping it up as a year-round, realistic New Year’s Resolution as well:

Aggressively and unapologetically learn to think for yourself.

In a society that worships conformity — in both its secular and religious institutions — individuals can’t get through a day without someone, somewhere, directing their thoughts, opinions, desires, and dreams. While escaping this trap doesn’t demand that we hide in our homes like hermits, it does mean that we avoid, limit, control, or drop completely outside influences that demand to govern who and what we are.

The word you’re looking for this year is Sabbatical, which is a period of time that you take away from something, generally work, but we’re going to broaden the scope:

Break away from Breaking News

1) Take a Sabbatical from the news. If your primary source of learning about what is going on in the world is a network news show or conventional newspaper, take a break. Corporately controlled and driven by advertising, major mass media is not balanced and neutral – even when it trumpets that it is – and day in, day out, as it drones on about the fiscal crisis, our education system, terrorism, the “war” on drugs, the actual wars that we don’t label as such, it subtly shapes how we think, and what we think about. Too much speculation substitutes for information, and the end result is that we go around with feelings of fear and insecurity.

For one week, just one week, don’t listen to these voices. It’s highly unlikely that you will miss any major, real, news, and remember, while information is useful for drawing conclusions, misinformation, or partial information, or skewed information, is not. Getting away from it all gives you an opportunity to identify these fine, hairline distinctions.

Seek Silence; Be Still

2) Take a Sabbatical from church and its activities. I know, I know — “Forsake not the assembling of one another,” (Hebrews 10:25), the preferred verse of guilt lashed on the backs of people who express dissatisfaction with establishment church services.

Sometimes, to let our light shine, we back away from the light of others. All of God’s children are houses on a hill. Autumn Moon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

I’m not telling you to leave; I’m just suggesting that you take a break — three weeks, say — and withdraw from a weekly dose of other people coaching you on what the Bible you’ve got on your coffee table, which is written in the language you speak, is saying.

Turn off the voices, in the way you turn off the TV, and give yourself permission to think, question, read, and take your concerns directly to God.

As a side note, you might see how much of your social life is wrapped around your church, and that the “assembling yourselves together” is unhealthily limited to one building, one church, and one group of people. You might also see how many brethren are willing to fellowship with you outside of a prescribed, controlled environment.

Good Works Start at Home

3) Take a Sabbatical from commitment. Not real commitment — as in the responsibilities toward your spouse and children and others who are dependent upon you — but all the community service requirements we impose upon ourselves because we’ve been told by everyone from the president to the pastor, that we are selfish beings who need to give, give, give to organizations and government institutions that wouldn’t survive without free labor.

If this sounds cynical, remember that the process of learning to think for ourselves means that we don’t accept ideas simply because they are loudly, repeatedly, and forcibly made, or because someone smiles at us from a full back page ad in a newspaper. Following the money — before you give any more of it or an hour’s worth of your time — is always a good first step, and if a charitable, community, government, or volunteer organization is worth giving your time and money to, it will stand up under scrutiny.

As with abstaining from church, give yourself a three-week break from meetings, bake sales, phone calls, or doing anything for anybody who isn’t a member of your tribe. Use this time to focus on your tribe — the people who warm and embrace your heart — and make sure that you are meeting their needs, first. It is not selfish to care for, and about, your family.

It’s Not Forever

A Sabbatical is not permanent — it is a much needed break in which we can think and live without the usual influences exerting their force. We may, or may not, decide to re-enter the worlds of news (which should really be written “news”), church, or community service, but none of these three circles will dry up and blow away if we choose to abstain for a week, or two, or three.

We, however, will learn new things — about ourselves and the world in which we live — and what could possibly be bad about that?

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. My goal is to encourage Christians to interact directly with God, starting each day with the question, “What do you want me to do today?” and expecting an answer. All of God’s children have a place and a purpose in His family.

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A Nobody Who Was Somebody (Like You, or Me)

posted by Carolyn Henderson

No human being is too small, too insignificant, too young, or too anything to be valuable to God. Summer Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Some bargains look better than others. Recently, at a consignment shop, I was drawn to a gorgeous Nativity set of tall, willowy statutettes, gilded with gold.

That they were half-off because Christmas was over made them even more attractive.

Of course, because this was a used Nativity set, some pieces were missing — generally this is acceptable as there is no requisite number of shepherds, and if Joseph’s gone you can replace him with one of the wise men. Even baby Jesus is pretty much a box with a small figurine within.

The one member of the Nativity set that you absolutely cannot do without, however, is the poorest, youngest, least influential, who happens to be the only female, so you can’t “replace” her with anyone else in the set.

Mary. And as that was the one who was missing from this not so incredible bargain, I gave it a pass. I don’t care how many rich leaders are standing around, if Jesus’ mom is not there, neither is Jesus. She’s an indispensable component of the First Christmas.

We Know Little about Mary

The Bible tells us very little about Mary. Luke Chapter 1 tells us that she was greatly troubled about the angel Gabriel’s visit, but was reassured that she had “found great favor with God.” The strongest impression we receive of her is that she was humble, trusting, and worshipful of her God. (Mary’s song, Luke 1: 46-56)

For all we talk about the importance of teaching and ministering to children, how much do we believe our words? Into the Surf; original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Through the years, Mary has been either exalted or ignored by various groups and religions, but here’s an interesting thought:

She was poor. Societally, she was a nobody. While she came from a lineage of kings, it didn’t buy her a decent hotel room. If she were part of an evangelical church today, she’d be allowed to teach children’s church, but let’s be honest here: most churches are so desperate to get teachers for children that they’ll forgo the usual leadership inculcation sessions and take the nobodies in the congregation; it’s when the nobodies want to chair the coveted Baby Shower Committee that the rules kick in.

Young, Ordinary, Overlooked

However, she wouldn’t be able to teach men. To be fair, a lot of men aren’t allowed to teach men, unless they have a degree or have gone through the leadership sessions and been awarded titular authority.

But this same woman, who would be just an ordinary nobody in a large, or even small, congregation, gave birth to the Son of God. Later, she was integral in the performance of Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2: 1-11).

“‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied, ‘My time has not yet come.’

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

This woman knew, and had complete faith in, the Son of God. Given her unique life experience, she was probably the first one. Because she treasured up a lot of things, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19), she would be a far better person to sidle next to at a cocktail party and talk about the Messiah than any number of  teachers, scribes, Pharisees, leaders of the law and pastors with doctoral degrees.

But nobody would ask her, because she looks like a nobody.

Are You a Nobody?

There are a lot of nobodies in today’s churches, ordinary people who love their families, live their lives, go to their (secular) jobs, and are constantly being targeted by the leadership sect for aggressive “discipling.” Surely we are not too dumb, somehow, to open up the Bible for ourselves, read what it says, and close our eyes and talk to God — with whom, let us not forget, we have a direct line through the Holy Spirit that lives within us.

God doesn’t make nobodies. What He does do is single out people to do His good work, not based upon their appearance or height, for

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16: 7)

My dear friend, if you walk through life wishing that you could be somebody important, do something worthwhile, but head home discouraged every Sunday morning because you’re just a nobody, remember the Nativity set. The kings are opulent, but the center stage is taken up by a baby, a workingman, and a mom.

I’m a Nobody

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I am a nobody who likes to write and does so with a reasonable level of competency. I am also an outcast from establishment Christianity, writing to and for people like me: seekers, and finders, of truth who are subtly told each day that we are not good enough, smart enough, faithful enough, or spiritual enough to do God’s work, because we choose not to follow man’s rules. 

I may or may not reach you. That I and my family choose not to attend weekly church services may be enough to turn many away, but if you are one of the eschewed sheep, be encouraged that you are a very valuable member of God’s flock. Stand tall. Speak to God. Grow in His wisdom and His love, and recognize that He has work for you to do.

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Christianity Is Simpler Than You Think

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sometimes, prayer involves less thinking and analysis than we realize. Being still is very, very difficult. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I know some people will jump all over this one, but I find my most effective time to pray is around 1 in the morning, when I have been awakened from a sound sleep and am still in a somnambulant state. Analytic thought is at a low point — which is where the scoffing comes in (“See, I told you that Christians don’t think!“), but sometimes, our thinking and overthinking get in the way.

So last night, at 1 in the morning, it became very clear to me:

Christianity does not have to be as difficult as we make it. At its most basic, primeval level, this is what it’s saying:

1) God created us.

2) He delights in us, and wants to interact with us.

3) We blow him off.

4) He doesn’t give up.

5) He loves us.

6) He wants us to love Him back.

Simple, yet Complex

Yes, it gets more complicated than that, and we can have all sorts of discussion about the fallen, sinful state of man (point number 3) and the regenerating work of Jesus Christ  to re-establish our broken connection with God (point number 4) – and this is all very, very true. But in our efforts to “grow as disciples” and “intentionally pursue a relationship of passion and meaning,” and whatever else we are being exhorted to do from the pulpit, we forget that the principle aspect of Christianity is that it is a relationship.

And relationships involve feelings, and the most important of these feelings is love.

God loves us.

This is so critical and so central to Christianity, and yet it is the first concept we throw off and away as we begin studying and growing and picking up a lot of shoulds, oughts, and musts:

The List of Rules Is Endless

1) We should attend regular services throughout the week.

2) We ought to listen to the elders and leaders in our lives, not just in the church, but everywhere.

3) We must tithe.

4) We shouldn’t ask too many questions or rock the boat.

5) We should be gentle and kind and meek and submissive and yet we oughtn’t be proud or arrogant or aggressive or thoughtless, and if we don’t know what these attributes look like, we should rely on the people in point number 2, not Christ Himself, to instruct us.

It’s not that growing and learning and studying are bad — it’s that in focusing on how we should, ought, and must behave as Christians, we forget what led us to this belief system in the first place:

We want to be loved.

And God does love us.

Walking, Literally, with God

One of my favorite books in the Bible is Genesis, and one of my favorite images is Genesis

At one time, Adam and Eve walked with God, physically, in the garden and communed with one another. Promenade, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

3:8-9:

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’”

There is a pathos to this passage because it describes a regular activity, that up to that day, God and Adam and Eve enjoyed together: they walked, in the garden, communing and talking and just being in one another’s company. This is what families do when they gather around the dinner table, at the end of the day, sharing their stories and experiences and lives.

And I am flabbergasted that the All Powerful God of the the Universe enjoyed time with the creations made in His image.

He still does enjoy this time, my friend, and when we respond to Him, and His love, we have the opportunity to walk in the garden with Him, or gather around the dinner table, or close our eyes and meditate, and be with the Person who made us, and loves us, and wants us to love Him back.

Don’t lose sight of this very simple, yet extremely profound, message of Christianity.

My goal as a writer, and a Christian, is to encourage believers to think — independently — and pursue this personal relationship with Jesus Christ we talk on and on about, but rarely value for the priceless thing that it is. It is too easy to depend upon others — authors, pastors, elders, speakers, leaders — to tell us what to do and think, as opposed to wrestling, as Jacob did, with God.

If you like what you read, or are even vaguely intrigued by it, please consider subscribing to Commonsense Christianity (top right menu bar) and/or passing me on to friends and family. I also love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment. (You can reach me privately and directly through the Contact page at Steve Henderson Fine Art, which I co-own with my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson.)

Earlier articles of interest to today’s topic include

People Call Us Stupid, You Know

Should Christians Think?

Eliminating Creativity

“I’m a Christian, but I’m not Religious”

 

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