Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Accidents Happen, but You’re Not One of Them

posted by Carolyn Henderson

What a beautiful surprise. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

In case you’re wondering why my typing is all off and squiggly, I cut my finger last night while I was slicing bread. Like most accidents, it happened quickly and was definitely unintentional, and yes, I know that it was my fault for not paying attention to what I was doing.

Give me a little grace, here.

Accidents happen, all the time, but the major time they don’t happen is when we’re talking about people, as in unplanned, sometimes unwanted, pregnancies. Our last child, Tired of Being Youngest, was a surprise, quite a surprise, I might add, but at no time did we consider her an “accident.”

(Interestingly, all four children have unique birth stories: Eldest Supreme was the One We Welcomed Despite Our Being Poor, Unemployed College Students; College Girl was the One You Say an Extra Thank You for because She Had a True Knot in Her Umbilical Cord and Could Have Pulled it Tight Anytime; and the Son and Heir was Our Great Gift after a Miscarriage — not a “Replacement” as he observed as a prescient seven-year-old.)

Last but Not Least

I, the youngest of five children, was apparently the only planned one — an intriguing piece of information my mother let slip once. The Norwegian Artist, also the youngest child, was the one his mom just Had to Have, even though the three existing were more than enough by conventional standards. (Years later, the Norwegian Artist was the only perfect stem cell match for one of his siblings who had an especially virulent cancer.)

When it comes to people, there are no mistakes, no accidents, no blunders, gaffes, or literal misconceptions. While the time or place may not be right, the parents not ready, the situation bleak indeed, the person in question — this miracle of life that only God can breathe the life into — has a purpose and a place in life, no matter how long or how short that life may be.

Precious in His Sight

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some days when I wake up and say to God, “What on earth could you possibly use me for? I’m not famous, I’m not rich, I’m not influential, I’m not brilliant, and I’m not particularly skilled at using sharp knives.”

And then, it’s as if He whispers,

“Yes, but you’re mine. I created you, and I love you.”

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do,” which means that, even if I, or you, don’t feel particularly useful to our Father, we are, because He made us that way.

Let yourself go and rejoice, every day, in the knowledge that God the Father loves you — deeply, deeply — as His beautiful child. Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Psalm 139 is especially beautiful:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well . . . All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (vs. 13-14, 16)

Socks Take a Long Time to Knit

As a knitter, I can assure you that it takes a lot of time and skill to create something out of two little sticks and some yarn, and when you are done, you are proud of, pleased with, and careful of what you have created with your hands. It is precious to you.

And we are precious to Him. No matter what your birth story is — whether you were planned or not, sought after and prayed for or wished that you didn’t exist, one Person always wanted you to be:

The One Who created you.

God has designed you to do good works; good, valuable things; unique, unusual things that only you can do. If you don’t know what they are, don’t worry. Just walk with Him, talk to Him, lean into His love and be secure in knowing that you are the cherished, beloved and treasured Child of the King.

Thank You

Thank You for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where one of my central messages is that God uses ordinary people. Like me. And you.

It’s something easy to forget in a culture that worships people as idols.

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I Was Born in Babylon

posted by Carolyn Henderson

While you are part of your environment, you are separate from it as well. Aphrodite, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art.

The 6th century, B.C., was a tumultuous one for the Hebrew people. Always beset and troubled by enemies, the Jewish state, barely holding out in the territory of Judah and its capitol city, Jerusalem, was finally and fully conquered by the Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C. The land was emptied out, and the people were transported, as exiles, to Babylon. They stayed there for 70 years.

It’s not like this was a surprise coup: that’s what the prophets, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the rest, were all about — throughout Hebrew history, they warned God’s people that bad things would happen if they didn’t do what they were created and designed to do, which is submit themselves to and follow God. This means adjusting not just one’s lifestyle, but one’s way of thinking, to God’s commands.

Living, Not Just Looking, Different

But the people consistently didn’t, preferring, instead, to follow the gods of the nations around them, customizing their beliefs so that they would fit into their religious culture. It’s a bit what Christians do today — I mean, how many times have you heard, “How are Christians any different from the culture around them? They look the same. Except on Sunday morning.”

We have this mistaken notion that Christianity is all about not swearing, or not drinking, or not getting body piercings, or saying the words “praise Jesus!” or wearing long, unattractive skirts in the name of modesty, or being a member of the Republican party, or eating — or not eating — particular things. We look to external, lifestyle choices as evidence of our belief in Christ, but what truly makes us different is how we think on the inside — we seek humility, mercy, grace; we bite our tongue when someone insults us because we don’t need to add to their hurt by our riposte; we rest in God and admit our weakness; we recognize that we ourselves are powerless, but the God we believe in is not.

Indeed, our most difficult “job” is invisible: we use our will to say that we have faith in God.

A Culture of Deceit

Culturally, it’s confusing, because we have all been born in a particular region or country, surrounded by a set of beliefs that is ingrained in us from childhood. It becomes difficult to disassociate ourselves from these cultural mandates. In my own country, the United States, it is considered savvy and smart and wise to “never pay retail,” because the level of deceit and deception is so normal, and so outrageous, in our business culture, that paying retail generally means that you’re getting ripped off. This is why stores and online sites always put a red line through the initial price, assuring us that we’re getting what we want “on sale!”

Enter Christianity, where we are told to be wise stewards of our money: for the most part, we come across as cheap. We want other Christians to give us their services for free, and because we can’t have any effect on our cell phone company or city utilities or medical magnate, we chip down at the little guy — the independent businessman who runs a small shop: “He’s too expensive,” we sniff. “I’ll buy it (a lesser product, mass produced and cheaply made) at the Bargain Mart.”

Our dance, as Christians, sets us apart in a place of light, warmth, and love. Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART.

That’s our culture — but the true place of which we are citizens, the Kingdom of God, tells us to use “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.” (Luke 6: 39). You’ve probably heard that verse before — it’s preached all the time from the pulpit, admonishing people to tithe. But we’re not encouraged to live our lives by it, blessing individual, ordinary people with our generosity.

How Do We Do This?

So how do we resolve our dilemma? How do we live as Christians, without being overly influenced by the negative, worldly aspects of our culture?

Tell yourself this: I was born in Babylon.

Within the 70 years that the Israelites were exiled in a foreign, evil, reprobate, godless, militaristic, pleasure seeking, idol worshiping country, a lot of children were born. And though they were born into this country, they were not, and never would be, Babylonians. They were God’s people, living as strangers in a strange land.

So while they shopped in the Babylonian malls and watched Babylonian TV and paid Babylonian taxes and interacted with Babylonians on all levels, they lived as God’s people, worshiping God daily, reading His words, following His commandments, separating out the essence of what it means to be His, from what it means to live in Babylon.

You Were Born in Babylon

What this means for you, and me, is that we are not forced to accept the norms of our country as our own — we don’t have to live large, charge big, buy bulk, and consume with abandon. Jeremiah told the exiles (and they didn’t want to hear this):

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters.” (Jeremiah 29: 5-6). In other words, live your lives quietly and reasonably, settle in and be a part of where you are, but always maintain your separateness to God.

“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  (Jeremiah 29: 7)

This means that if we say, “God Bless America,” it’s not because our love of country is intrinsically related to our Christianity. You can love your country, and not say the Pledge of Allegiance (we owe one allegiance only, and that is to God). Do not confuse your love of country with your obedience to God — and recognize that sometimes, and it will become increasingly so, the demands of our country, our government, our bureaucracy, and our culture, run counter to the commands of God.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

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“My Church Is Being Stolen!”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Where did it go?” You look for the church you used to have, where you felt excited and accepted, and it’s different in a way you don’t like. Wading, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

If you belong to a warm, embracing, encouraging and fun church congregation, today’s post is not for you. All I can advise is this: keep it that way, and you do this by limiting the size and power of leadership/management. When these people control as opposed to serve, you lose what you have.

We did, and so have many others: a long time ago, for a short time, we attended a quirky fun church that despite its informality, taught and empowered its members because much of the discipling came from the members themselves. For awhile it functioned, brilliantly, without a supreme leader.

And then the leader arrived. He spent the first year watching and laying plans (doesn’t this sound like what’s going on in many “free” governments today?), but once he moved, it was fast, and before the next year passed, all that was left of the church — our church — was its outer shell.

Incremental Changes

I didn’t begin to realize this until one day, at a “fun,” yet newly structured, family camping trip, a recent attender commented to me,

“This isn’t a particularly friendly church.”

I blamed her, because she was different, you know, not really upright in her life and with a sketchy past (you don’t have to slap me — I slap myself as I write that) — but she was right.

Our church had changed: it had been stolen.

Is this happening to you? It’s hard to tell, because like most takeovers, the really good ones are done slowly and subtly, but there are a few signs you can look for:

Take Me to Your Leader

1) New leadership. Any time there is a changing of the guards, be wary. I find it intriguing that in our churches, which are supposed to be intimate, communal, and embracing, we draw upon outsiders to lead.

And by leadership, I’m talking pastor, because rare is the good-sized church where the elder board makes the mandates. In small, very small, churches they can make life a nightmare for the pastor, but once the business gets bigger — with administrative staff and letterheads and podcasts — the pastor is the CEO, and the elders function as presidents and vice presidents. Yes men, I think they’re called.

You? You’re in the mail room.

Education, or Wisdom?

2) The pastor gets his PhD. I’ve seen a few thesis papers put out by Reverends who want to add Doctor to their titles: “Authentic Intentionality in a Communal Setting,”  or, “Creating and Empowering Leadership Skills within the Laity Class.”

As individual Christians, we are each called to shine our light from the hill. There are no Leadership Training Classes required to fulfill this. Autumn Moon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Wouldn’t it make sense for a doctoral candidate in theology to expound upon something from the Bible? Oh, yeah — that would be like a doctoral candidate in teaching — science, literature, art — researching something practical to do with his theoretical expertise, as opposed to the teaching of that expertise. Is your pastor getting his doctorate to learn more about the Bible, or techniques on how to run — and grow — a church?

You Are What You Read

3) Your Pastor’s library contains books especially written for pastors.  What’s he reading? Books on apologetics, archaeological finds proving Biblical historicity, the Bible itself? Or does he have volumes of the latest on discipling reluctant attendants, pumping up the worship team, and increasing community and religious volunteerism?

You can get a clue through the sermons: one leader we lived through for too long saturated his sermons with the word “community.” It sounded warm and fuzzy and full of grace, until we started mentally replacing the word “group think” with “community.” Then it all made sense.

Fast and Furious

4) Changes happen fast, and you have no say in them. We feel stupid now, but the Norwegian Artist and I attended a  “church  community meeting”  in which we were encouraged to “speak our minds about the proposed changes.” We did, but it would have been more profitable to head to the kitchen and eat stale doughnuts. The front runner speaker’s body language made it clear that the decision was already made (and it had been).

Looks Like Government

5) Bureaucracy increases. At one time, you, with your indifferent singing ability, were able to stand in front and lead songs. Now, all worship team leadership staff have to take classes and be approved by the board. “We need to exhibit a higher level of professionalism,” you are told. “We will review your gifts and skills and find an appropriate outlet for them.”

We knew we were in trouble at one church when the new leader arranged Leadership Seminar Training, complete with workbooks, multiple meetings, and tests. Within six months, the church had been divided into “leaders” and “non-leaders,”  or management and staff as we preferred to call it. And as with the cubicle corporations that churches increasingly mimic, there were way too many middle managers doing . . . what?

Listen to Yourself

6) It just doesn’t feel right. When you say this, aloud, the general response is, “No church is perfect. You need to just be patient, and maybe be a bit more flexible in not wanting things all your own way.”

Trust your instincts — you’re not stupid.

So . . . what do you do if your beloved local church is slipping away from you? You either stay and try to make changes (good luck), give in and accept that this is how things will be, hop to another church and hope that the infection isn’t epidemic, or leave the system.

Because that’s what it’s becoming my friend, a system, and Christianity is not a system.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I still belong to the church. It’s just not in any building. It is a church of individual believers, pursuing a strong relationship with Christ, and some of the people are busy in building on Sundays, and others are sleeping in.

But when we get together — in person, online, over the phone, at a house, or meeting in the street — we grab onto one another and say (and truly mean) — “How are you? What do you need prayer for? What have you been learning? Do you have time to sit for tea?” Jesus talked to people, not at them.

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Near Death Experiences — Don’t Fall in Love with Them

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Our best, most accurate, and truthful source of information — the Bible — does not give us specifics as to what to expect in heaven. On the Horizon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints available at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art.

“Did you read the book?”

“Nope.”

“See the movie?”

“Nope.”

“Then what makes you think you can have an opinion on the matter?”

I grew up in a family of scientists, where not having a PhD in a discipline (and most 13-year-olds don’t have one of these) meant that you were unqualified to have an opinion on the topic at hand — evolution, say, or the nutritive content (or lack of) of pesticide-laden food.

I learned early that an effective means of squashing dialogue and dissent is to call the other person stupid or unqualified, a technique used liberally in the scientific, political, educational, religious, or financial communities today. (As an aside, since most of the people “representing” these areas don’t have English degrees, perhaps they should refrain from writing, ever. See the absurdity?)

Misgivings about NDEs

So it is when you, or rather, I, express misgivings about Near Death Experiences, first-hand accounts by people who have died medically, been transported elsewhere (heaven, or hell), and returned to tell of their experiences.

It’s not that I don’t believe them — although the more money they make in the process of telling their story the less credence I give to their motives — it’s that I don’t need their stories to confirm my faith, and I encourage my Christian brothers and sisters, especially, to be wary, very very wary, about incorporating NDEs into their faith life.

Why?

Here are — 4 reasons:

Don’t Touch That Curtain

1) Scripture expressly tells us to not try to break the barrier between this world and the next. Leviticus 19: 31 says, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them,” and Isaiah 8: 19 asks, “Why consult the dead on  behalf of the living?”

Many NDE messages include words of advice from dead loved ones, to “go back and tell the world about this,” (generally in a book, movie, and multiple talk show appearances), but “it is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence.” (Psalm 115: 17)

Noticeably missing from NDE accounts are specific, direct messages from Jesus Christ telling them, “Praise and glorify the Son of Man, and tell people that I am the only way to heaven.” Rather, the message is a more innocuous, “Go and tell people that God is love.”

That’s it?

No Eye Has Seen, No Mind Has Conceived

2) Nobody on earth knows what heaven looks like. 1 Corinthians 2: 9 tells us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

The sights, the smells, the sounds, the colors, the experience of heaven — these are hidden to us while we live on earth. We are told to focus on, and follow, Jesus. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

These words come from the apostle Paul, who later spoke about a man (many think this is autobiographical) who “was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.”  (2 Corinthians 11: 28) No books, no movies, no talk show appearances.

While there are many accounts in Scripture of the dead being brought back to life — Lazarus (John 11: 38-44); Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5: 35-43); the widow’s son (Luke 7: 11-17) — distinctly absent are firsthand accounts from these people about their experiences.

Jesus Is Silent

3) Jesus Himself, the best source of truth about what life is like after death, does not share this information with us. In the 40 days after His resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus , “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets . . . explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24: 13-35)

Christ’s focus was not details about the afterlife, but teaching how Scripture was fulfilled in Him, and instructions to His followers to “go make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28: 19)

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 21: 21)

Is God Glorified? How?

4) God is not glorified through NDE experiences, but human beings are. Point number one touches upon the innocuousness of the message brought back, and how the supremacy and sovereignty of Jesus Christ is not part of that message.

In Matthew 17: 1-13, Jesus, in the Transfiguration, is visited by Moses and Elijah, and this mountaintop experience is witnessed by Peter, James, and John. Peter’s response is distinctly human-based:

“If you wish, I will put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Matthew 17: 4)

With a cover charge, perhaps?

Christ’s response is,

“Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17: 9)

THAT particular event is the big one, and it is the one that is shoved into the background when we focus upon, seek out, and place our trust in Near Death Experiences.

We are told that, in the latter days, “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect,” (Matthew 24: 24) and while many, no doubt, of NDE speakers have genuinely experienced something, if that experience does not glorify Jesus Christ, then it’s not a message worth focusing on.

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert, do not go out; or, “Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.” (Matthew 24: 26)

For now, we are increasingly getting messages from “beyond.” In the future, we will be told that Christ Himself has appeared.

It’s happening, people — false messages, false signs, false wonders — that look really, really real, but don’t glorify God. Be awake.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to make a distinction between the words “spirituality” and “Christianity.” Just because something generates from the spiritual realm, does not mean that it is from God.

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