Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Angry Jesus: I Don’t Want to Follow Him, Either

posted by Carolyn Henderson

This is a vulnerable child. Although she is alone in the painting, you can bet that, out of our sight but not out of hers, is a watchful adult, making sure that she comes to no harm. Bold Innocence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I ran into a statement the other day that knocked me back on my fundament (isn’t that clever? I managed to not use the words, “butt,” or worse, “ass,” and thereby avoided offending anybody).

The discussion had to do with Jesus, and trust — or more accurately, our tendency to not trust in Him by questioning His motives and true love for us.

“It’s important to trust Jesus,” one person said. “So important, that when we don’t, He walks away from us for awhile until we come to our senses and look for Him.”

“You mean that He leaves the room?”

“Well, yes, basically. But it’s for our own good.”

Pick up Your Jaw, Please

When I told this to a friend, he — once he picked his jaw up off the sidewalk — related to me a recent event that happened at the park when he took his granddaughter to play.

“She was in the little plastic play car, her imagination driving her off to far places,” he said, “and for some senseless, ludicrous reason, I thought it would be funny to hide behind a tree. I figured that she’d laugh and call out for me.

“She didn’t. She stopped everything she was doing, and if I had been a mile away, I could have spotted the panic in her eyes. I immediately stepped out and she ran to me.

“‘I thought you’d left me,’ were her first words, and oddly, my reply was along the lines of, ‘I would never leave you or forsake you.’”

We may not physically feel His hands upon us, but they’re there — Jesus stays close and keeps us close to Him. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

You are NEVER Alone

God says that a lot, you know. Many of us know, and are comforted by, God’s words to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31: 6,

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

He won’t stay behind the tree, and He won’t leave the room, but we have a really, really difficult time accepting this because, in some warped way, we associate God’s discipline of us with pain, hurt, heartache, and rejection.

We Tend to Hurt One Another

Maybe it’s because, as humans, our notion of disciplining our children involves castigation and humiliation: we swipe soap in their mouths for saying a word like “fundament.” We strap them with a strop, all in the name of applying the “rod” (what are we thinking? A STICK?) We humiliate them by making them stand in a corner, in full view of everyone else in the room.

With these disciplinary techniques in our arsenal, it’s no wonder that we fear — quite literally, FEAR — God, and walk around in trepidation that our least misstep will exasperate and infuriate Him to the point that He walks out of the room so He won’t beat us up.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 11: 28-29, and before you hitch yourself to the plow and wait for the whip on your back, read the rest:

“I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Love Never Fails, or Abandons

We are human. We will mess up. We have difficulty comprehending and understanding a loving, accepting, merciful God because quite frankly, we don’t have a lot of appropriate role models to look to down here: Jesus is the ultimate role model, but it takes a lifetime of walking with Him to begin to understand just how patient He is.

The Apostle Paul prays for us in Ephesians 3: 18-19 that we will

” . . .  grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

This kind of love — it doesn’t walk away.

And it’s also not something that we can grasp, understand, or accept on our own. Jesus Himself teaches us who and what He is, and by His own words He is gentle and humble in heart.

We don’t have to be afraid of Someone like this.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I look at what we’re told and taught in the general religious marketplace, and compare it to what I see when I open my Bible. Of course I’m not right all the time — no human being is — but it’s important that individual Christians recognize our right, and responsibility, to question what we are taught, and to maintain a strong, close, vibrant, personal relationship with Christ.

He is our ultimate teacher.

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Do Negative Thoughts Affect Your Prayers?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Life consists of sunny days and rainy days, and saying that’s it’s sunny when it’s raining is just as silly as saying it’s raining when it’s sunny. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

There’s a difference between the gods of the world and the one, true, eternal God.

While that sounds like an obvious statement, it doesn’t seem so when you talk to many Christians who, purportedly, worship the latter.

A colleague of mine — a deeply committed Christian who pursues God and lives his life by His words — floored me the other day when he commented about some general matter,

“This isn’t working and we’ve been wasting our time.”

He then stopped, figuratively held his hand to his mouth, and backtracked,

“I shouldn’t have said that. It was a negative comment, and there’s no place for negative comments in our lives.”

There Are No Cookies in the Cookie Jar

Oh, Puh-leeze — if there are no cookies in the cookie jar, I’m packing our lunches for the day, and I ask the other person in the room,

“Are there any cookies in the cookie jar?”

how useful do you think the answer, “Oh, yes — there ARE cookies in the cookie jar!” is going to be to me?

There’s no way to call the statement, “There are no cookies in the cookie jar,” positive, but this doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to say it. If it’s the truth, then it needs to be said, and insisting upon the opposite doesn’t change circumstances.

The Infection of Our Minds

But we think it does. Years of inculcation from charlatans who preach — sometimes from the pulpit, often in books, on TV, from under rocks — a positive prosperity doctrine asserting that our very words have POWER, has infected the minds of too many of us, resulting in our believing in the power of our words, as opposed to the power of the Person listening to them.

“I love you.” Three powerful words we say to God, because He said them to us, first. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Don’t get me wrong, words are powerful, but in a way different than what we understand. On a tangible, physical level, words hurt and heal:

“I wish you had never been born,” is an example of hurting.

“You are precious in my sight,” is an example of healing.

The Power of Words, and the Power of God

On a spiritual level, words can, and do, unlock power, but not the power of God. Pagans throughout the centuries — and be aware that pagans aren’t necessarily people jumping around in loincloths, but anyone, including someone in a suit, who taps into the power of Mother Earth, the Goddess, the Cosmos, the Universe, the Unseen Being, basically any and all of the powers held by the prince of this world — have used, and use now, words, in a particular order, said at a particular time in a particular way, to unleash abilities beyond our own.

We so desperately want signs of the supernatural in our lives that we too easily listen to someone who glibly assures that we can get it, simply by saying the right words at the right time in the right way. So we buy the books, send in the checks, and follow the mandates of someone who says that he is a Christian and quotes enough Bible verses in rapid succession that he’s convincing — and when what he says doesn’t work, we blame ourselves, and not the falseness of the message, or the messenger.

God, the Word, doesn’t play the word game. We cannot cajole Him, control Him, beguile Him, dupe Him, or entrap Him by our words. We can only talk to Him — with our true, deep thoughts, whether they are negative or positive — and rest, gently, in knowing that we don’t have to put on a mask or a fake happy face for the Person who sees deep within our very soul.

It’s All about Trust

First Chronicles 5:20 describes God helping the Israelites out in battle (I know, that Old Testament God makes us uncomfortable — but He’s the same faithful, merciful, just, loving God we see in Jesus, and it puts things in perspective when we consider that the people the Israelites were fighting worshiped their god by roasting living human — often child — sacrifices within idols created for the purpose):

“They (the Hebrews) were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.”

They “cried out,” probably not in glowing, positive terms. But it wasn’t what they said, or how they said it, that mattered. It was to Whom they said it.

Free yourself from hocus pocus. Talk to God — directly, honestly, vulnerably, privately, and trustingly. He, not your words, has the power you’re looking for.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I share with you what I read, observe, and learn. There is a huge difference between what our culture tells us is true, and what God — who transcends men’s teaching — tells us in His Word, and in His created world.

I encourage you to grab that Bible and read it for yourself, and before you ask another person what a particular passage means, ask God first. He may lead you to a footnote at the bottom of the page, or an Internet site, or a person — but sometimes, He’ll freak you out by popping a thought into your head that you know wasn’t there before, and it gets you pondering.

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Me. Me. Me. And oh, You too, Lord

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Initially, we planned to use Mia the cat for the model to Steve Henderson’s original painting, Something for Everyone. But she wouldn’t cooperate. At. All. So we rounded up Studio, one of the grey kitties that keeps the mouse population down. He deserves good things from Santa.

Like many rural dwellers, we own a number of cats, most of which are “working kitties” that keep the rodent population down and out. They enjoy twice daily meals of fresh goat milk and an occasional visit to the Manor, if they behave.

One kitty, however, is Special. A hybrid Siamese, she looks different, and prettier, than the grey masses of other feline fare, and from the beginning she has lived a life of relative ease. While technically still an Outside Kitty, she begins her day each morning by clawing to the top of the front door and peering through the little windows. (By the way, if you’ve heard that Siamese cats have a reputation for intelligence, you’ve heard right; intelligence in a cat, however, is vastly overrated, and difficult on the front door.)

Because I’m well trained, I rush immediately to let her in, which she does, with a thump to the floor.

(This might be a good time to mention that her name is Mia — Meeeeee-uh — living with her convinces me daily that there are no accidents to names.)

Me. Me. Me. Mia.

First things first: she heads to the closet where the food bag is, sits in front of the door, and expectantly stares. If you don’t get the message immediately, she brushes lovingly against your legs, purring, and giving that “come hither, NOW, Stupid,” look from her blue eyes. She can keep this up for a long, long time — to the point that even the initiated are fooled into thinking that she likes you.

Mia is happiest when she is in the house, and we are outside of it. Sometimes, I fall into the trap of treating God that way — but He loves me so much that He won’t let that situation stand! Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed, open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

But she doesn’t. All she wants is that door open, and once it is, she’s gone — burrowed deep inside the bag of cat food for a free-feeding session.

Every morning, I give in, something that the Norwegian Artist — who refuses to open the closet door on principle — observes with a sigh and a shake of the head.

“You do know, don’t you, that Mia doesn’t care for you at all?”

Yes, I do. We all have to be eccentric about something.

Spiritual Lessons from a Cat

This morning, when I opened the closet door for Mia, I looked deep in her eyes and thought,

“You’re like me, actually, dealing with God. I don’t want to take time with Him, I don’t want to rest in His arms and let Him love me — I just want Him to open the closet door so that I can jump in the bag and start free feeding.”

In other words, I want the answers to my prayers and the solutions to my problems — first. Afterwards, when I am surfeit with food, I’ll spend some time with Him, unless, of course, like Mia I just want to head up to the master bedroom, alone, and sleep all day.

But that’s not good enough for God: He wants me — all of me — and He wants me to hope and trust in Him, not hope and trust in the answers to my problems. Those answers will come, and generally in a different form than what I am expecting, but if I spend all my time hoping in the answer as opposed to hoping in the Person who gives the answers, I will be disappointed.

Hope in the Person, not the Things

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them,” Jesus tells us.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

The really, really difficult part about living this last verse is seeking first without focusing, in the back of my mind, on the “give it to me” second half. It is disturbing how much I resemble Mia, and not because I sport such a distinctively beautiful coat.

God’s grace is sufficient for me. I don’t know how, but quite fortunately, He does.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. As a writer and the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art, I wear a lot of hats and do a lot of things, but my favorite activity, hands down, is writing this column. I feel as if you, the reader, and I, the writer, are sitting down and chatting, and when you are so good as to take time and leave a comment, I am delighted.

Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, keep walking — you’re getting somewhere. If you feel dissatisfied because you want a deeper, truly different looking relationship with God than what you have now, be encouraged — feeling frustrated is a good sign that we’re not satisfied with the status quo. Complacency and apathy are definitely worse than frustration.

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Shutting up the Voices in Our Heads

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Silence. We don’t talk about it enough. Sunday Drive in the Wallowa Valley, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

I just returned from posting letters in our mailbox, 3oo feet from our house. It’s a cold, foggy day, and over the crunch of gravel under my feet I heard the sibilant song of a little bird.

Five little notes. They transported me to spring.

I spotted the bird — a drab grey thing perched on the vines of a blackberry bush — but it offered no more song. Just the five little notes.

But they were enough, and while it is still a dreary day with little to promise but rain, my hope turns to spring, and all because of five little notes.

Silence, or Noise

If I had been in a city, I would have missed them, their song eclipsed by traffic and shouting and machinery and all the sounds and fury associated with a metropolis. But I was in the country, where silence prevails, and because of that silence, I was able to hear the small, the gentle, the quiet, the unobtrusive.

So it is with modern life where — whether we live in the city or the country — we fill our ears and our eyes and our minds and our senses and our totality of being with noise:

Radio, TV, YouTube, newspapers, magazines, music in our ear buds, social media, texting, and the voices of all sorts of people in all sorts of places telling us how and what to think.

Voices don’t have to be audible to be in our head — they just have to be thoughts, generated by others, and passed on to us with the expectation that we will accept them, question free, simply because

1) They are given to us by people in authority, and this includes religious authority

or

2) They are repeated so often and so consistently that we begin to accept them as our own.

When we think for ourselves, we rise forth in beauty and truth — but we’ll look a little different, and people may comment on that. But that’s part of thinking for ourselves. Aphrodite, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Thinking Requires Silence

Both situations are alive and well in our society, resulting in a people who no longer think for themselves, but echo the thoughts we are fed. Yes, this is an objectionable rumination, but stop and and consider: when is the last time you sat down — in a silent room — and asked yourself,

“What is it I believe, and why?” About life, about freedom, about the country you live in and the government that runs it, about your job, about how much — if any — of the news you hear is unbiased, unfiltered, and true.

As a Christian, there is an even more important question, and it is this:

“What do I believe about Christ, and why?”

Those of you who read me regularly know that I emphasize the individual aspect of our relationship with Jesus, and while this does NOT mean that I advocate avoiding people, I do strongly advise questioning leadership, and not accepting everything we are told simply because Pastor said it (he has a degree, and you do not) or because our denominational headquarters decrees it, or worse, a global council of religious leaders, celebrity Christians, and authoritarian figures agree that this should be so.

Trust Yourself a Little, Okay?

When Jesus describes us as sheep, He also describes Himself as the Shepherd. There is no intermediary figure between the Shepherd and His sheep.

But we are constantly putting one there, insisting that it is impossible for individual believers to grow outside of man made configurations, to the point that we demand of the nonconformist,

“How will you ever learn without people to teach you?”

Someone recently asked me this, and I replied, “The Holy Spirit is our teacher, and while He may use the wisdom and words of people, He does not expect us to rely upon them blindly.”

The Still, Quiet Voice of God

We need silence, time away from traffic noise and the pandemonium of mass media that we surround ourselves with, all day, every day, so that we can hear the five little notes of a songbird, or the still, quiet voice of God.

Have you ever wondered why you talk to Him, but He doesn’t answer?

Have you ever thought that maybe He is answering, but in the midst of all the clamor and cacophony, His voice is being drowned out?

Turn it off, and walk away. Start with five minutes, alone, and in silence, and build upon this. You don’t need 24 hours of this, every day of the year, but you do need something, even if it’s nothing more than five little notes.

Luke 5:16 tells us that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” No Facebook. No iPhone. No music. No voices, other than God’s.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I seek out the seekers who want something more than convention, blithe assurances of security, and shallow promises from people who care little for the needs of others.

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