Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

We Say It All the Time, but What Does It Mean to “Follow Jesus”?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

It is a misconception that we learn from our peers. We learn from someone wiser than we. Into the Surf, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Amazon.com

We Christians have a lamentable habit of using esoteric language, which is an erudite way of saying that we speak phrases understood by a small, like-minded group of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.

Given that the gift of Christ is meant for everyone in the world, it’s a habit we might think about breaking, but before we do so, we need to figure out if we know what we’re talking about, ourselves.

For instance, what is the “good news” of the gospel? Can we encapsulate it in a sentence or two?

And what does “accepting Christ” mean?

Following Jesus — How?

Here’s an easier one, because Jesus said it so much Himself: following Jesus. What does it mean?

Well, maybe it’s not so easy, simply because Jesus said it so many times. Like this, in Matthew 16: 24 (cross referenced in Luke 9:23, Mark 8: 34),

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Quite honestly, that doesn’t sound particularly fun or safe, but following Christ comes at a cost, most notably ourselves. Those who follow Christ are to be less concerned with their self-image, self-confidence, self-importance, self-identity and self-actualization than they are with the words of Christ, and His care and love for others.

This goes a bit against contemporary pop psychology, which has unfortunately crept into the church and curled up in one of the corner pews, assuring us that we can’t love others until we focus on loving ourselves. I don’t recall Jesus ever mentioning anything along those lines.

Sheep, not Sheeple

He did say, however, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10: 27)

So we’re sheep. Not the most intelligent of animals, and ones prone to follow the leader. We know people who borrowed a ram for procreational purposes. Unfamiliar with the layout of their land, the male guest trotted over the edge of a bridge spanning the river on their property, and was promptly followed by all one dozen of the ewes. It’s a good thing that it was a short bridge, and a small river.

Jesus frequently used animals as examples in his parables and stories. Rumination, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold.

But this shows the hazards of following the wrong leader, which would be, essentially, anybody but Christ. His voice is written down for us in Scripture, and if you have a Bible that lists Jesus’ words in red — or green, or purple — you can jump from passage to passage and just see what He says.

Doing Battle as Cattle

If it starts to seem overwhelming, linger at Matthew 11: 28-30, where Jesus invites us to,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for 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.”

Now we’re oxen. They’re bovines. But before we get insulted, recognize that a “yoke” of oxen frequently refers to two beasts, side by side. If we’re one of those creatures, then Who is the other?

. . . and Tax Collectors

Luke 5: 27-33, Matthew 9: 9-12, and Mark 2: 14-17 all tell about the calling of Levi, the tax collector, whose Greek name was Matthew (whom we know as one of the twelve apostles). The Pharisees, who tended to be offended by most of what Jesus said and did, expressed indignation that so many of these slime bags and sinners were “following” Jesus, to which He replied:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Many of us who have been Christians for awhile are in danger of thinking of ourselves as righteous (which we are, in and under Christ) — but we forget that all of us, before we made the decision to follow Him and “become fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 19),  lived the life of sinners, and that Christ is the reason we’re different.

Way? Which Way?

May favorite verse about following Jesus is John 14: 5, when Jesus is telling His disciples that He is leaving to go to His Father’s house:

“You know the way to the place where I am going,” He assures them.

“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?'”

Isn’t that an astute question? And it comes from the man we unfortunately label as “Doubting Thomas.”

Jesus answers with a verse beloved by His followers, and hated by many who aren’t:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This verse isn’t a weapon, a nail to hammer into people’s hands — it’s a promise:

No, you don’t know where you’re going. But He does. Follow Him, and you’ll get there.

Thank You

Thank you for reading Commonsense Christianity. Christianity is different, you know. Not because it’s harsh and judgmental and mean spirited and proud, but because it is a message of love, acceptance, understanding, compassion, and mercy.

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When the Prodigal Son (or Daughter) Is Yours

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Where are they? And what are they doing? Sometimes, it’s hard to know whether we want those answers, or not. Highland Road, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Light in the Box.

The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11 – 31) is a familiar one to many — sometimes because we’ve been the person who has broken our parent’s heart ourselves, other times because we are that hurting parent.

The principle message of the story is that, from the perspective of God our Father, ALL of us are prodigal sons, running away from His love and goodness, grace and mercy. Some of us, realizing that we no longer want to feed pigs anymore, decide to come back to our Father’s house.  And like the man in the story who watches constantly for his son’s return, God enfolds us in His arms and love, announcing to all that His child “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15: 31)

When the Prodigal Is Yours

Some people live this parable in real time, and it lasts a lot longer than nine paragraphs in the Bible. If this is your story, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1) “Where did we go wrong?” That’s the first question we ask ourselves, and while it’s a valid one, it’s also one to answer promptly, honestly, and competently, and not to spend time wallowing in.

Of course you made mistakes — all humans do. Ask God to guide you in being aware of those mistakes, correct whatever is necessary, and move on. Prodigals happen in the best of families as well as in the worst, and you can find some measure of comfort in recognizing that the first Prodigal Son and Daughter were Adam and Eve.

Where Is Everybody?

2) You find out who your friends are. When times get tough, some people draw closer to us, and others run away. This isn’t surprising, but what generally floors us is that often, the people we thought we could count on, we can’t, and those we barely knew existed, are right there by our side.

The one who never leaves us is God Himself, who says, in various ways throughout the Bible, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13: 5, based upon Deuteronomy 31: 6)

Don’t Be Hasty

3) This probably didn’t happen overnight. While the actual crisis may seem sudden and unexpected, most situations take time to develop. Proverbs 14: 17 tells us,

“A quick-tempered man does foolish things,” and 19: 2 warns, “It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”

Don’t be pushed to make fast, rash decisions with potentially irrevocable ramifications.

Growth, healing, life — these all take time. Purple Iris, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold.

4) There are other people, who need you, in your life. If there are additional children, especially still in the home, don’t force them to live their lives constantly in the shadow of their sibling’s actions. Yes, you are brokenhearted, but your youngest child’s birthday is coming up, and she deserves a celebration.

The prodigal son of Jesus’ story physically left, and while his father never stopped looking for his return, he also didn’t stop living his own life. He had a farm to run, and at least one other child.

It’s a toss-up whether it’s easier to have the prodigal out of sight and far away, or near enough that you are constantly updated as to the latest scrape, but either way, there’s not much you can do for someone who isn’t listening and doesn’t want to change direction right now. You major activity is to pray.

Forgiveness Isn’t Easy

5) This is a great opportunity to learn, firsthand, what forgiveness means. There will be people who encourage you to deal harshly with the prodigal, summarily rejecting him or her because they are “sinful and rebellious,” and your duty as a Christian demands that you show tough love.

Tough love is tough not because it’s grim and rigid, but because it’s painfully difficult. (It’s also a pop psychology phrase that you don’t find in the Bible.)

Luke 17: 3 tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times, comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

By all means, lock your house, put away money and charge cards, protect yourself from your prodigal when they are in an untrustworthy state, but always remember — this is your child. Ultimately, you don’t want to sever them from the possibility of ever having a relationship with you, when they come back to their senses.

Things Take Time

6) Healing — on your part and the prodigal’s — takes time. A wise woman, who endured many painful years loving a child determined to make excruciating decisions, told me,

“Proverbs 22: 6 tells us that when we train a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not turn from it.

“Did you see the part about, ‘when he is old’? It may take awhile.”

It’s not easy being the parent of a prodigal — don’t let anyone, ever, prevail you into thinking that it is. Lean on God, not your own understanding (Proverbs 3: 5); don’t give up (Galatians 6: 9); and remember that love — God’s love — never fails.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. When I read the Bible, sometimes I stop before I open the book and remind myself,

“The stuff in here is actually true.” It’s amazing what kind of perspective that gives you.

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Does God Still Speak?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We don’t have to touch sunshine or see the breeze to know that they exist. Enchanted, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; open edition licensed print at Great Big Canvas, ICanvasART, and amazon.com.

For many people, hearing the audible voice of God — speaking directly to them —  is incredibly important. He isn’t “real” somehow if He isn’t physical, tangible, and accessible.

They are encouraged in this belief by celebrity leadership and the lay people snared by them, confidently assuring that God speaks audibly today, and if people aren’t hearing Him, it’s not God’s fault, it’s theirs — they’re too ordinary for God to bother with, or they don’t have enough (or the right kind of) faith, they’re uneducated, out of tune with spirituality, or just too full of doubt. Apparently, it takes a lot of work to get God to notice you, much less involve Himself in your life.

One wonders why Christ bothered with the apostle Thomas, who expressed misgivings about Jesus’ appearing to everyone else in Thomas’ social circle. (John 20: 24-29)

The Jabbering God

Some people, too many of whom write and sell books on their experiences, are so cavalier about their relationship with God that His speaking to them is almost banal:

“God told me today that I really should stop eating eggs. He’s concerned about my diet.”

When you hear story after story involving God, the preacher of the day, and their fireside chats, you start to think that there’s something wrong with you — and quite subtly, you begin to change your goal from learning about God by seeking His truth in Scripture, to earnestly desiring a personal experience, and genuine conversation, of your own. Even if it’s all in your head (and many conversants with God admit this: “He spoke to me — audibly — in my head”), you want this.

But let’s say that God did talk to you, specially. What would He say?

He’s Already Said It

“I love you.”

Well, that’s a focal message in Scripture: 1 John 4: 10 tells us,

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

“I want you to be with Me.”

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.” (John 17: 24)

The vast knowledge, wisdom, and grace of God are deep and wonderful, but they are not hidden from us. When we seek Him, we find Him. The Land of Chief Joseph, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“You’re not alone. I am with you.”

“I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91: 15)

What could He possibly tell us that He hasn’t already said, over and over, in the Scriptures?

And Other Things, He Didn’t Say

Well, how about this:

“You will be a mighty man of God and your work will usher in my New Kingdom!”

or

“I am angry with my people, and I want you to explain to them how to follow me,”

or

“I will give My words to you to tell and teach my people as we enter this new and glorious age.”

These all sound really impressive and grand and authoritative, and in the 30-plus years I’ve been a Christian, I’ve heard some variation or another of them being preached, by various big names to little people, as truth. Before the little people, however, relinquish the autonomy of their minds to the forceful demands of an obnoxiously vociferous, self-appointed prophet, consider these four verses in the Bible:

Four of Many Pertinent Verses

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,” (Revelation 22: 18)

and

“It is finished!” (John 19: 30)

and

“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1: 27)

and

“The Bereans . . . examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17: 11)

What these verses tell us, in the order that I’ve listed them, is this:

1, 2, 3, 4

1) There are no “Additional Revelations” — everything we need to know, God has already said and written down,

2) Christ completed everything we need to receive salvation and eternal life.,

3) You don’t have to be a genius, celebrity Christian, or theologian to read the Bible and be taught by its truth,

and

4) Check out everything you’re told about the Scriptures by reading them yourself. You’re smart enough.

The danger of striving to hear God’s audible voice, or following another who assures us that he hears it, is that we confer upon experiences the anointing of truth, based upon nothing more than the word of another human being. More than once Jesus admonished listeners for seeking signs and wonders (“A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!” — Matthew 12: 39), and the Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11: 13-15, warns us that Satan can do miracles, too.

Do you want to know what God has to say to you? Read His word. He hasn’t left anything out.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ to stop abdicating their spiritual lives to the kingdoms of this world. The only Father we have is God, and yet too often, we give glory, honor, attention — and money — to human beings who loudly assert that they have a special message that God has given to no one else but them.

If the AntiChrist comes in our generation, we want to recognize him, but if we can’t identify his forerunners, how will we spot the real thing?

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How NOT to Pray

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Communing with God is a reflective, contemplative activity, not a grasping, demanding one. Riverside Muse, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at ICanvasART and Amazon.com.

Prayer is one of those topics that is always in fashion. It doesn’t really matter whether or how you believe in God — even atheists these days aren’t amiss to tapping into the spiritual world, and in the name of science (or scientism), it’s acceptable to talk about human potential, Life Force Energy, Cosmic Consciousness, mind over matter, Nature, even Gaia the Earth Goddess.

Spiritualism is okay with a lot of people, as long as it doesn’t have anything to do with God — THE God, that is, the one Who calls Himself I Am.

But if you’re a Christian, prayer has nothing to do with tapping into the life force of the universe, connecting with a collective consciousness, or commanding power from within. Unfortunately, however, these concepts — which are a trendy element of pop culture that have roots going back to the dawn of time — have crept into the Christian church, infiltrating and infecting the lives of believers.

Nag. Nag. Nag.

How many times have you been told: “You need a stronger faith. True belief will unleash the power of God,”

or

“God has a mighty plan for your life and He wants you to tap into His dynamism and vitality. If you only maintain a positive attitude of belief, you WILL move mountains!”

The essential message is that prayer is a means of unlocking blessings from God, prying open His tightly closed fist, and if you’re having money troubles or marital issues or health concerns, it’s because you don’t pray right. Because when you do pray right, God HAS to answer.

No Answer? Must Be Your Fault

You need to claim, declare, announce, demand, expect, and believe. You must never think a negative thought. You must “tap into” the power within you — because if the Holy Spirit is there, He’s a power, and He’s only waiting for you to learn how to use that power. The potential of your mind and imagination is such that if you only think hard enough, resolutely believe, and focus on what it is you really want, you’ll get it.

Perhaps you recognize the fallacy of these arguments: this is good. But I’m laying a bet that, despite your rejection of these deceptions, some of what they propound may have crept into your prayer life.

Fruits of the spirit do not include arrogance, insolence, presumption, brazenness, and cheek. The Fruit Vendor, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

How?

Have you ever prayed, quite specifically, for a particular answer? Like this:

“Father God: our brother needs this job. In Jesus’ name, we invoke your competence that his resume be blessed, that it will be on the top of the pile, and that the personnel manager will be impelled and compelled to hire him.” And you then picture, in your mind, this whole scenario happening. We convince ourselves that, praying “in the Spirit,” we are being given these images by the spirit/power within.

But let’s say that God has no desire for our brother to have this job, and actually has another job lined up, three months away. Would it not be better, and more trusting of our Father’s wisdom and grace, to pray,

“Father: our brother needs a job, and this opportunity has opened up. If it is to be, then lead him in what he should do. If it is not to be, then give him the grace to deal with the disappointment, anxiety, frustration and fear.”

Asking, Not Demanding

Many would say that this latter prayer sounds irresolute and negative, and by its very negativity, won’t “work,” but the purpose of prayer is not to compel, force, manipulate, push, prod, or demand that God “do” something. Prayer is communication with our Father, and those of us with experience of having, or being, earthly parents know that stubborn insistence never gets anybody very far. It’s always wiser to Ask.

Nowhere in the Bible are we encouraged to take an authoritative tone with God, and indeed, when words like “declare” or “proclaim” are used (and they are used quite often), they are overwhelmingly followed by the phrase, “by the Lord God.” He declares a lot of things to us; He does not invite us to declare back.

Rather, God instructs us to trust in Him, wait upon Him, delight in Him, hope in Him, run to Him as our refuge and strength. Psalm 37: 3, 5, 7, 8  tells us:

“Trust in the Lord and do good . . . Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him . . . Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . . do not fret — it leads only to evil.”

None of us has the power to command or create our next breath. And since we are unable to do this one very little thing (Luke 12: 26), what makes us think that we can take on the province of God, and control life — ours, or anyone else’s?

We are not little gods, but when we seek to wrest power from the One God, turn it around in our hands, and force Him to do our bidding, then we are falling for the same lie that Satan told Eve in Eden.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage you to be one of the 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19: 18). This is not something that we can do on our own, but with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19: 26).

Read His word. Check everything you are told in light of it. Pray. Stay Awake.

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