Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Jesus Isn’t All You Need — He’s All You’ve GOT

posted by Carolyn Henderson

To navigate the waters of life, you need a boat, and sometimes, it seems like a small boat, indeed. But it floats. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Has this ever happened to you?

You’re in a social situation, somebody asks you how you’re doing, and since the most significant event in your life lately has been the loss of your job, or the diagnosis of a serious disease, or your teenager’s totaling the car but mercifully walking away unscathed, you mention this.

And the person listening leans forward, touches your arm, and says,

“Jesus is all you need. Excuse me while I go refresh my lemonade.”

You’re Not Helping

No offense, mind you, but quite frankly, telling me that Jesus is all I need — when what I really need right now is a means to pay the electric bill, or a doctor who will actually listen to me and answer my questions, or a working car — just doesn’t cut it. I know you mean well, but in five words, not taking account the part about the lemonade, you’ve managed to

1) underplay the suffering I’m going through,

2) subtly admonish me for my lack of faith,

3) leave me standing, in the middle of the room, feeling like an idiot.

Theoretically, I know that Jesus is all I need. Theoretically, that’s what you know too, because if you knew any more, or had any actual experience of Jesus meeting your needs when you were up against the Red Sea with no boat, you would have foregone the lemonade and stayed to talk.

Glib Lip-Speak

“Jesus is all we need,” in addition to being a church chorus that sounds like a dirge, is one of those pat answers Christians feel obliged to throw out when they don’t know the response to someone’s question, or are faced with another person’s sad story and don’t know what to say. It’s so much easier to comment, “Jesus is all you need,” and then leave.

As a child of God, what I need is patience, love, strength, guidance, teaching, compassion, direction and care from Someone bigger, stronger, and far more capable than I. Into the Surf, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“God is in control.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

“The Lord is so good.”

We don’t always have to say anything — Job, in his sufferings, would probably have appreciated less advice than silence, and sometimes, silence is all we have. It is golden, especially when accompanied by concern, sympathy, caring, prayer, and a genuine desire to do anything in our power to help the situation.

Honesty Works

Other times, honesty on our part, in response to honesty on another person’s part, is oddly encouraging:

“I really don’t know what to say. This is a difficult situation, and I’m not God. But I will pray for you, and I’m starting right now.” When a person is desperate, sad, discouraged, and dancing with despair, knowing that someone cares enough to pray for them — and really do it — is something to grab onto, because by this time, one realizes that it’s not so much that Jesus is all you need, but that

Jesus is all you’ve got.

Both sentences say the same thing, but in a different way, with the first implying that you don’t have enough faith to believe, and the second baldly stating a fact that you can’t do anything about. But you don’t have to, because Jesus being all you’ve got really isn’t such a bad situation. Think of it:

I Can’t Do Anything, but God Can

He is “able to to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” (Ephesians 3: 20); He meets all our needs according to his glorious riches (Philippians 4: 20); and His plans for our life are good ones, “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29: 11)

When you consider the double fact of His being compassionate, gracious, faithful, and loving (Deuteronomy 34: 6) and our being the beloved children of God (1 John 3: 1), then Jesus being all we’ve got truly is enough, and if we have difficulty understanding, accepting, or believing this, that’s okay.

Our gracious Father is patient and wise, more than willing to take the time to walk beside us, carry us when necessary, and teach us Who He is and how much He loves us. He wants us to want Him, to turn to Him first and always, and this generally doesn’t happen until we realize that there is no other alternative.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I explore the concept of actually living the stuff we so glibly say. It’s not easy when you take God at His word and tell Him, “Yes. This is what I want. It looks impossible, and I’ve only heard of the Red Sea being parted once. But you’re the same God, you love your people, and I’m one of your people.”

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Christianity, and the Problem of Hell

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Most of us have an easier time accepting the goodness of Santa Claus than we do the goodness of God — if the former has this whole naughty and nice thing down fair and square, then surely, somehow, God does as well? Little Angel Bright by Steve Henderson, original oil painting, signed limited edition print, and open edition poster.

Most people, Christians or not, don’t like to talk about hell. Many seekers abhor the subject because they ask, quite logically,

“How can a God who professes to be loving, kind, faithful, and merciful toss anyone into hell? I mean, I’m a lowly worm of a human being, and I would never reject one of my children to the point of condemning them to death.”

This is a logical statement — soundly based upon a sense of justice and fairness that mirrors those attributes in God.

The standard Christian response, at least the one I’ve been slapped with, is,

“God’s ways are not our ways! You are a SINNER and in your disobedience and immorality you are UNABLE to see that God is loving and gracious, and if you do not submit to Him, you DESERVE eternal damnation!”

I’m in; You’re not

Too often, there’s a disturbingly smug sense of glee or satisfaction on the part of the speaker who knows, because he has properly recited the Four Spiritual Laws (many people do this repeatedly over their lifetimes to insure that they’ve got it right and won’t, by  inadvertence, be eternally damned), that HE’S going to heaven, even if YOU — and millions and millions of  corrupt, depraved, nameless and wicked people — are not.

It’s when you put faces on these people, and give them families, and jobs, and emotions, and settle them in an area where the name Jesus is completely inaccessible, or damage them by people who have literally spit the name of Jesus in their face, that the questions arise.

“They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life,” (Matthew 25: 46) you are then told. “See? There’s a HELL for unbelievers! It doesn’t MATTER if they can’t hear the story of Jesus. God is fair and just and this is how He does it.”

Read More Than One Verse

If you back up a few verses, however, to 31 onward, and read, you will not see any mention of “accepting Jesus” as you will injunctions to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, protect the sojourner, clothe the naked — in essence, take care of the Least of These.

The Least of These were very important to Jesus; we can hardly go wrong in paying attention to them in our search for truth. Seaside Story, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

This isn’t universalism; it’s simply reading the passage and not inserting statements that aren’t there. The difference between the sheep and the goats is how they treated the least of these. So maybe our next question should be, “Who are the least of these, and where are they in my life?”

Revelations 21: 8  consigns the “cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars,” to the fiery place of burning sulfur, and while it’s popular to single out the “unbelieving” and the “sexually immoral,” very few of us can stand up and say that we’ve never been cowardly, never lied, never worshiped money and position at the expense of God.

Justice, and Mercy

This is where Jesus comes in: He offers to take the punishment we deserve because, frankly, doing wrong does deserve punishment. If someone stole our car and bashed it into a wall, we wouldn’t expect him to walk off without paying. We would expect justice, but for justice to work, it is tempered by mercy, an exceedingly difficult combination for us to comprehend. We deserve punishment, but we need mercy.

God holds the balance of both, and while, in 2,000 years, we’ve never come up with a good answer to, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” we might consider setting the question, and the issue of hell, aside while we focus on God’s goodness, mercy, love, faithfulness, grace, and beauty. There is no evil in God, so however He does what He does, it is fair and right and just and good, and the reason the hell question bothers us is because the interpretations we are given destabilize our sense of God’s goodness.

Ignorance of God’s Understanding

Josh McDowell, in his most excellent book, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (ISBN 978-0-7852-4219-2, page 408), quotes the 19th century poet and literary critic Samuel Coleridge:

“When we meet an apparent error in a good author, we are to presume ourselves ignorant of his understanding, until we are certain that we understand his ignorance.”

In terms of God, this means that, when we encounter disturbing sections or concepts in the Bible that seem to refute God’s inherent goodness and grace, we don’t

1) immediately assume that God’s not such a Great Guy after all

or

2) toss out the disturbing sections because they must surely be symbolic, wrong, or mis-written by a human being.

Rather, we accept that we have a conundrum — and as I mentioned, many of these conundrums have been with us for thousands of years — that’s beyond our understanding right now. Let it go, ask God for wisdom, and move on — never losing sight of the critical point of God’s perfection, power, grace, mercy, judgment, wisdom, and love.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about the things many of us think and wonder about, but generally avoid mentioning because someone, somewhere, will attack us for asking.

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The Audacity of Despair

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We live in a fallen world, which means that it is beautiful yet deadly, and getting through life alone is not an option for success. The Land of Chief Joseph, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Recently, the Norwegian Artist convinced me to watch the kind of movie that I — and he incidentally — hate:

Pure naturalism, in which the story starts out mildly bad and goes downhill from there. Any hope that the character encounters is a forlorn one, and the end, inevitably, is death and despair.

“It’s like real life,” proponents says. “Because real life sucks. There is no hope.” (Interestingly, many prominent propounders of this philosophy enjoy material comforts beyond what many of us — who childishly cling to hope in a God who cares about us — could even imagine.)

All Is Lost.

The Sundance Kid, Older

That’s the name of the movie, a 2013 flick starring Robert Redford. In retrospect, the Norwegian and I realize it was baldly literal, but initially we thought we had found a classic adventure story, man versus nature and all that, with grit and determination and pluck and vigor and valor.

Critics hailed it as a masterpiece of artistic expression, in which the main character, Redford (the only character, actually, unless you count the yacht and the life raft; no soccer ball) wakes up, in the middle of nowhere, with a damaged boat. That’s the optimum optimism of the movie.

Of course he encounters storms, which destroy the boat, downgrading him to the life raft and a spiraling series of increasingly bad situations — life, without hope, is the basis behind naturalism — and eventual death. Or not.

On a sunny day, in an intact boat, the sea — and life — seem pretty grand. But storms arise, and our boat and acumen are not enough to conquer them. Golden Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

In what the creators propound as ingenious cleverness that comes across as trite, the ending scene shows Redford drowning, then swimming to the surface where a disembodied hand reaches out to clasp his own — reminiscent of Frodo grabbing Sam’s wrist in the final scene of the Fellowship of the Ring.

Yaaaaawwwwwwnnnn

“Was he rescued? Or was he not?” is the burning question. Ho hum. According to our sagacious critics, pessimists (which they also refer to as realists), say no. Optimists (um . . . non-realists?) say yes. Religious people (idiots, is the working term) simplistically see the main character — who throughout 100-plus minutes of discouragement, despondency, and desperation never once calls out to God, even to damn Him — SAVED at the end and on His way to Jesus in the sky.

Oh, gosh that’s sweet. After 106 minutes of following this man in intricate detail, down to seeing him spit, we don’t know if he lives or dies at the end. And frankly, I don’t care.

It’s all summed up in one of the few lines in the movie, words the protagonist writes in a note and stuffs in a glass mason jar that he tosses into the sea:

“I’m sorry. I know that means little at this point, but I am. I tried. I think you would all agree that I tried. To be true, to be strong, to be kind, to love, to be right. But I wasn’t.”

That’s spot on, you know, but the conclusions drawn divaricate.

Long Life, Short Life — They All End

I can’t help but think that Redford, in agreeing to play the part — and with his career and his clout he doesn’t have to take anything that comes along — obliquely agrees with his character’s words: it’s not enough to be powerful and rich and well known and, at one time, the kind of guy that every man envied and too many women threw themselves in front of. And maybe, at 77, that’s starting to dawn on him.

King Solomon, who like Robert Redford was rich and famous and sought after, handsome in his youth and a playboy of the old, old days, came to realize that it’s all

“Meaningless! Meaningless! . . . Everything is meaningless!” (Ecclesiastes 12: 8)

The money, the fame, the accolades, the golden statues, the worship, the girls, the life of stuff and things that many people dream about but will never achieve, satisfying themselves, instead, with a dog and a yard and a hammock. Ordinary people, ridiculed by the financial and artistic elite, often learn that life is more than money and the power money buys because we never have enough, and many of us, to get through the day and the stress and the uncertainty, turn to God as the only way to survive. We KNOW we’re not enough.

Blessed by Being Ordinary

And ultimately, perhaps we’re the blessed ones, because we’re not fooled for 10, 20, 30, 40 years — if we live to be 106 we are still “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4: 14) — by corruptible pleasures into thinking that our good times will never end.

But, when we ordinary people realize this, we don’t have the means to widely infect others with our despair, camouflaging it as “art,” beauty,” “wisdom,” and “perception.”

If you’re seeking those four elements, along with hope, truth, and love, look far, far away from Hollywood.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I seek to separate culture from Christ. Saturated by media and media influence — which pervades our government, schools, workplaces, and churches — we can easily be misled into following the wrong path, and calling it truth.

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And speaking of money, and how ordinary people live on a set, limited amount of it, I wrote a book called Live Happily on Less that encourages you on how to do just that.  (“But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” 1 Timothy 6: 8)

 

Sleeping Christians: Wake. Up.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Some days, I wish I could walk, and walk, and walk, and leave the exasperation behind me, but until Jesus calls me home, I have work to do. Daydreaming, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Some days, I’d prefer to leave the amusement park and just go someplace else.

It is on these days that I ask God,

“Do you not care, anymore, about your people? Are you just going to let them die, asleep, complacently living a life of outward ablutions and inward materialism?”

I was in Costco the other day — my inward materialism by necessity is satisfied by three-liter bottles of olive oil and boxes of organic diced tomatoes — when I wandered through the book section. Not because I was interested in buying pop-culture products designed to manipulate my thinking as opposed to, say, tell a good story with a propaganda-free plot, but because I was waiting for my printer ink cartridges to be refilled. More materialism.

The Latest Christian “Literature”

I walked by the latest compelling, gripping, hard hitting historical novel aimed toward Christians. If the title, which had the name “Jesus” in it, weren’t enough to clue me in, the reading level of the prose, which hovered around fifth grade, finished the job. For some reason, mass media publishers are convinced that Christians are unable to read, and comprehend, complex, sophisticated, intellectual material. I do so hope that they are not right.

To be honest, “Jesus” wasn’t the first word I noticed; the author’s name — above “Jesus” and the same font size, shouted out. And given that more people — too many of them Christians — listen to this man’s words than read those of Jesus, this is understandable from a marketing point of view. (Incidentally, Jesus fared better than the co-author, whose name is squished in between the Famous Media Commentator Who Wants to Be Known as an Historian and a Novelist Too and . . . oh yeah, Jesus.)

Jesus Divine

I flip flip flipped the pages, rapidly gathering the impression that this forceful exposé of Christ’s life and death was nothing more than a compilation of the four Gospels, in prose form, with “historical background facts” sprinkled in here and there to give an illusion of authenticity and scholarly research. (Herod had gout. And an STD. The pugio was a sharp weapon carried by the Romans.)

We are to love God with our hearts, souls, and MINDS. Let’s improve those minds by reading, thinking, praying, meditating, and learning. The World Traveler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, signed limited edition print and poster.

Flip flip flip to the end, when Mary Magdalene arrives at the empty tomb: the body of Jesus was never found. End of story.

Considering that all four Gospels, upon which the history of Jesus is based, don’t stop at the missing body, this is an interesting way to conclude the tale of “the most influential man in history,” and gives credence to the author’s (oh wait, authors’, there were two, weren’t there?) intent to focus on the humanity of Jesus, at the expense of acknowledging his divinity.

(He is God, you know. He doesn’t just say it. He is it, I AM and all that.)

College Graduates Barely Reading Chapter Books

Christians: are we truly reading this stuff? Is this the best that we can do?

Are the Gospels so difficult to understand — so beyond the fifth grade reading level of a populace that is largely graduated from high school, and a significant number additionally holding college degrees — that we need them simplified, compiled, sanitized, and explained for us?

Do we believe, and read, everything a media personality says and writes simply because we recognize his face? Do we ever say,

“You’re a sensible man, and you say some sensible things, but I retain my right to not believe everything that you say. Only God deserves allegiance like that.”

American Idols

We live in a world of pop culture that worships people — because they act, because they sing, because they sit behind a desk and “interpret” the “news” for us, because they say they’re Christian and make a point about their church attendance — and if we don’t actively stand up and resist the mass media message and the peer pressure from the pews, we will drift along on our floaties to . . . complacency, conformity, subservience, tractability and an acceptance of all that our leaders — political and religious — instruct us to believe.

We won’t make any impact on the culture around us because, as Christians, we are not actively seeking Jesus and asking Him to impact us.

Not everything you read has to be highbrow — I mean, I love trashy spy novels from the 1960s. At the same point, don’t allow everything you read to be dumbed down to the point that Jane Austen is impossible to comprehend. You’re smarter than that.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Do you know who and what I am? I’m an ordinary Christian — sort of a modern Hebrew fisherman, or goat herd, or woman at the well — someone who isn’t important, isn’t brilliant, isn’t influential, and isn’t powerful.

But I’m a Child of the King, and I’m compelled to use the gifts that He has given me — the desire to write and the inability to shut up and leave the room — to reach out to anyone who is reading. I walk where He leads me, which is what He asks all of His children to do.

What about you? What is He asking you to do? If you don’t know, ask, and He’ll answer in His own way, but if you’re truly seeking an answer, you will get it.

God needs His people — all of us ordinary people — doing His work, reading His words, listening for His voice. Turn off the TV. Tune out the voices. Quit following human beings.

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