Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Missional. Intentional. Authentic: Meaningless

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Walking with Jesus takes us on some very narrow roads, to some pretty interesting places. Blue Ribbon, original watercolor by Steve Henderson.

Considering that we follow, serve, worship, and emulate the most radical individual to have ever walked on this planet — Jesus — Christians can be really boring.

Oh, I ‘m not talking about people who are suffering, and suffering hard, for their belief in Christ. I’m talking about people whose ability to communicate, and think, is severely compromised by non-words that look Biblical, sound important, and mean nothing:

Expressing ourselves with authenticity

Developing an intentional existence

Motivating one another in a purpose-driven fashion

Paying attention to proper group dynamics

Pursuing a missional lifestyle

Spend 10 minutes in a pew, or interlocking chair, on a Sunday and it’s highly likely you’ll catch one of these terms tossed into your lap. And because none of us likes to look stupid, we nod sagely and say,

“Mmm, yes. Christ calls us to a purpose-driven, intentional lifestyle of healthy authenticity and a missional outlook.”

What did you just agree to?

Words Are Supposed to Mean Something

We all like to invent words, and indeed, the English language is famous for its new creations, many of which are aberrations of existing words, think “participator” (participant), “administrate” (administer), or “irregardless” (regardless).

Our new creations, or maltreatment of existing words, sound so much more deliberative, purposeful, and informational than the old, but in reality, they are weak, indecisive, and inconclusive because they don’t really say anything, they just sound like they do.

A word, or a concept, can be simple yet complex at the same time. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

And when we use them, we may think we sound intelligent, but we don’t — we just sound as if we were pretending to be so.

Isn’t the purpose of communication to . . . communicate? And isn’t it interesting that Christ so often told easy-to-understand stories that caused people to think? Luke 4: 32 tells us that the people listening to Jesus,

“. . . were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.” Mark 1: 22 says that,

“. . . he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law.”

It’s true that “intentional” is not an Aramaic or Hebrew word, but I’m guessing that the teachers of the law used its equivalent.

More Syllables — More Meaning?

I’ll be the first to admit that Christ’s words are not always easy to understand, but not because of the words themselves. Take John 14: 14 for example:

“You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

Ninety-three percent of that sentence consists of words of one syllable; the only multi-syllabic offering, “anything,” is comfortingly familiar. And yet it’s a sentence we can spend our life reflecting upon, trying out, experimenting with, researching with other passages in the Bible because ALL of us have experienced asking God for something, in His name, and not getting it. What gives?

The temptation, in trying to understand concepts and sentences like this that have flummoxed us from the moment Christ uttered them, is to dress them up with pseudo-intellectualism:

“Christ’s intention is that we pursue an authentic lifestyle of missional purpose — this is what He means by ‘in my name,’”

as opposed to blurting out,

“Why doesn’t this work? Why does it seem to say something so simple, and yet be something so difficult to achieve? What am I missing here?”

Simple versus Simplistic; Complex versus Convoluted

God, Christ, Jesus, and Christianity are simple, yet complex. We humans have a tendency to make them simplistic, yet convoluted. Our buzz words, which change with the generations, confuse those who hear them, not the least of whom are people who are not familiar with church-speak, and hesitate to ask (because they fear they’ll look stupid), “What do you mean by a community of unification in our spiritual calling and esoteric giftings?”

“Just live intentionally,” they’re told. “and in a missional fashion.”

Oh, okay. That makes it clear.

As “fools for Christ,” (1 Corinthians 4: 10), we get tired of being called dumb by those who do not follow Him, and we seek solace by trying to sound scholarly in a fashion accepted by the world: the less we understand what someone says, the more cerebral he must be, we reason.

But this is how human think: we worship convolution as a sign of sophistry and sapience. Big words are better, confusion is a sign of understanding.

But that’s not how God thinks. He’s got this central message — I love you — of three simple, monosyllabic words that require every aspect of our heart, soul and mind to fully comprehend.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I seek to distinguish God’s truth from man’s teachings — it’s fairly difficult, isn’t it? But we keep trying, and it’s part of our walk as Christians — all of us, “ordinary” or not (and that’s what we all are, really) can rest in the arms of our mighty, powerful, gracious, loving, and really intelligent God, and learn from what He teaches us.

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The U.S. Is not a Christian Nation — and It Never Was

posted by Carolyn Henderson

My friend is no longer young, no longer able to dance. But inside, the young, beautiful woman she once looked like, still lives, joyous, and longing for the day when she will be free. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

I was visiting a friend in the nursing home last week when I found myself trapped, holding my sleeping friend’s hand, forced to sit in the same room with a Christian television show.

Those of you who read me regularly know that I’m not big on TV in any form — corporate network news with its disinformation tops the list of things I’ve cut out of my life, and corporate network Christian misinformation digital fare has never been allowed a place in my living room, mind, or psyche.

(Years ago, I was similarly trapped with a digital evangelist who was bent on selling me, and millions of others, a statue of David and Goliath, which he assured us would encourage us through the trials and tribulations of life, and all we had to do was touch it, feel it, look to it, and pray for strength.

The blur line between art and idolatry was pretty strong.)

Idolatry Is Easy to Fall into

Back to my imprisonment in the chair. This particular evangelist wasn’t out to sell me anything — at least in the forty five minutes that I was stuck with him — but he was pretty big on convincing me that America and Christianity were one and the same thing.

“We are a Christian nation,” he told his co-host, sitting raptly at his side and asking mock-perspicacious questions like,

“So you’re saying that our nation was founded by CHRISTIAN men, with CHRISTIAN values, and the liberty and financial success we enjoy is because of our CHRISTIAN heritage?”

“That’s it exactly, Bob (Jim, Nate, Andrew — I’m sure he’s famous but I don’t know his name). We are a CHRISTIAN nation.”

As with the statue of David and Goliath, the blur line between Christianity and idolatry was pretty, well, blurred.

When, Exactly, Were We Officially Christian?

In non-stop prattle with visual after visual flashed in front of the camera, the speaker explained how our very liberty — as from King George and taxation without representation — derives from the Christians who were called to flock the churches and bow their knees in prayer. This obedience on the part of the people, and the purported godliness of the Founding Fathers, set the foundation for what we are today:

A “Christian” nation with a disturbing history of enslaving people, capturing land that belonged to residents who were here first, levying excessive and increasing taxes, starting wars throughout the globe, turning a blind eye to questionable business practices, relying upon the fine print in contracts to deceive people into doing what they had no intention of doing, and not being particularly honest with its citizenry. When people say they want to go “back” to our Christian roots, I wonder,

“Just when are you talking about? At what point in this nation were we — the citizenry AND the government — living by the commandment, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’?”

Money and Riches Aren’t the Same Thing

Contrary to what is frequently preached in the pulpit and on the TV screen, many people in America are not rich, and those who are, are not necessarily Christian. Many who are materialistically poor bow their knee to Christ, not the American flag or the American dream. The number of people who are Christians does not correlate to the number of people attending church.

Freedom, wealth, riches, liberty — these are open-ended words with multiple meanings. When we apply them to Christianity, we want to take time with those meanings. Diaphanous, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

When Christ talks about riches, he doesn’t mean money; when the Apostle Paul writes about freedom (check out Galatians 3), he isn’t talking about taxes.

If we are a Christian nation, it’s not one on this earth, and it’s one that extends through all the countries and continents:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2: 9)

The allegiance we pledge isn’t to a flag but to God, and when we confuse the two, we weaken our faith by diluting it.  In the same way that we cannot worship both God and money, we cannot worship both God and country. It’s not that the latter is bad; it’s just that it’s not divine.

As an American, I live in — not a Christian Nation — but a nation with Christians in it.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage readers to grab the hand that God is holding out to them, and allow Him to lead us forward. To trust Him, we really need to know Who He is and what He’s like, and the best way to do this is to read the book that He’s given us — the Bible.

Read it for yourself, and don’t be satisfied with a weekly interpretation of its contents by the “experts.” As the 1 Peter 2: 9 says, we are priests, able to come before Christ in worship and prayer, and able to learn from His words and His wisdom. Depending upon others to do this for us leads us into dependence, insecurity, and spiritual weakness.

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God. God? GOD! Are You There?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

At no point, ever, are we walking on the beach all by ourselves. God is always with us, although He may be silent. Reflection, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Last month I regaled you with tales of my two hours in the Dentist Chair (God, the Dentist), and how we find spiritual lessons in the oddest places.

This month found me in that chair again, for only an hour and three-quarters, and lest you think that I am a Twinkie fiend or something, I am paying for the sins and indiscretions of my youth.

(Twenty-some ago, when most of my fillings — which now need to be replaced — were put in, I had a tendency to be 1) pregnant, 2) craving graham crackers with peanut butter and chocolate chips, and 3) not too good about flossing.

I’m a fairly unexciting person, you know, and even my youthful indiscretions are boring.)

Feeling Numb

This time in the chair, I spent less time thinking deep thoughts as I did wondering when it would all be done so that I could use the bathroom. Afterwards, however, I meditated on my numbed condition:  although people assured me that I was drool-free and they could indeed, understand my speech, I felt my lack of feeling.

“Remember, the bottom left of your mouth is numb, so don’t chew  it up,” the helpful assistant reminded.

There’s a reason they tell you that, because although you honestly can’t feel anything, this doesn’t mitigate the damage teeth can do on soft tissue. This is one case of many when how you feel, or don’t feel as the case may be, is not an accurate representation of reality.

So it is with God. It is a part of our human experience that we frequently we don’t feel that He is there. More frequently, it is when we need Him most that we feel Him the least.

Has He abandoned us?

We Are Not Orphans

No. Never. But it’s time for faith: operating on what we know, as opposed to what we feel, and what we know is this:

If Santa can remember the dog and cat, then God can remember — not only the sparrows — but you and me. And He does a lot more than fill our stockings. Something for Everyone, original painting by Steve Henderson; signed limited edition print, poster.

He will never leave us or forsake us. (Deuteronomy 31: 8) For many of us, this is one of the few verses we can quote by heart, along with “Jesus wept,” and even if we can’t cite the actual verse location, its very assertiveness gives us confidence.

You’ll find variations of this promise in Hebrews 13: 5 (“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”), Joshua 1: 9 (“Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”), and Matthew 28: 20 (“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”).

Old Testament, New Testament — over and over again God promises that He is with us, now, and will never leave us, ever. His words are true, and sometimes, they are all that we have to go on, because circumstances look rough, and feelings are non-existent.

What We Know, not What We Feel

But if we don’t know the words, we can’t be comforted by them, which is one reason why it’s a good reason to pull out your Bible and read it — not because God will punish you if you don’t, but because He made a point of writing about Himself and supplying us with that publication.

In Exodus 34: 6-7, God allows Moses to glimpse His glory, and as He walks past, He says,

“The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

When I was younger I thought about this verse, “What a vain thing to say. Why is God bragging on Himself?”

As a wiser person I realize, no, He’s not bragging about Himself, He’s telling us about Himself, and what He’s telling us is that He’s compassionate, loving, and faithful. This is information that we don’t intrinsically know, and without this intellectual assurance, our feelings will mislead us into thinking that He’s forgotten us, because we don’t see Him, hear Him, taste Him, smell Him.

But we have His words, and His words are true.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about living real life, as a real Christian, in the 21st century. Unless you’re a church rat, you’ll notice that most of your life is spent living at your home, workplace, and general societal locations as opposed to the pew, which is why I encourage Christians to think for themselves, talk to God throughout the day, and focus on the strength of their individual relationship to Him.

He doesn’t give points for Bible study attendance or small group participation, preferring, instead, to walk closely with us and guide us through each moment of the day.

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Salvation Is Free. Our Time Is Not.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When it comes to the word, “free,” let’s focus on this image of freedom, as opposed to the concept of not paying people for their time and skill. Spirit of the Canyon by Steve Henderson.

Too many Christians have a thing about the word “free.”

When it comes to the free gift of salvation that Jesus willingly hands us, we’re convinced that there’s a catch somehow, and it seriously can’t be as easy as it sounds.

Yes, we’re saved, but in order to “prove” that we are involves a lot of work, and what that work is depends upon the denomination to which a person belongs. Across the board, church attendance seems to be mandatory; I ran into one man who quoted Hebrews 10:26, the verse immediately after the famously misused “forsake not the assembling of one another,” to justify that Christians who don’t go to church are going to hell instead.

Well, that’ll fill the pews.

Another Kind of “Free”

On the other hand, when it comes to services and products that do cost money, the concept of “free” becomes well understood indeed. Regardless of what you do, it’s highly likely that you have been obliquely yet firmly requested to provide your service, skill, or product to “the church,” without charge,  because

1) You’re a Christian,

2) Christians are supposed to support “the church,” which generally means the particular group and its subsequent building that we are involved in,

3) A Christian’s “ministry” is wrapped around what leadership of the attended congregation says it is,

and

A Bible Verse That Isn’t in the Bible

4) The Bible tells us to “be good stewards of God’s money,” another one of those verses in the book of Obligations, often attributed to Luke 16: 10-13 (look it up, the term, “good stewards of God’s money,” does not appear), and generally applied to extract more money from church attendees for — not orphans, widows, the poor and downtrodden — but additional church programs.

If you’re a plumber, and the building you find yourself in on Sundays has a bathroom, you know where you’ll be on Saturday.

Time with our families and the people God has put into our lives is a much overlooked, unappreciated, ministry. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Unskilled labor? Don’t worry, there’s plenty of work for you.

Even artists, normally considered the most useless of God’s creatures, have a purpose. At one church we attended, the Norwegian Artist created, for free, a logo, letterhead, and business cards for the pastor, who wanted a more professional, businesslike look.

Business? Or Ministry? They Can Co-Exist

Unfortunately, the businesslike attitude did not extend to offering to pay for professional services, although I’m sure that the pastor did not expect his dentist, his doctor, or his auto mechanic to work for free.

(Interestingly, years later the pastor contacted us, via his secretary, and wanted to know if the Norwegian could “do a few updates and changes.”

“Do you know that the Norwegian Artist hasn’t set foot inside of your church for three years?” I asked the hapless mediator. “It looks to me that the CEO is far more interested in the Norwegian’s work, as opposed to the Norwegian himself.”

We never heard from them again.)

I know. Churches are non-profit entities, and if they paid everyone for what they did, they’d never make it. But if all Christian business people are expected to provide free services to all Christian entities, as part of “the Lord’s work,” then we won’t make it either.

“The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5: 18)

Giving, at Our Discretion

Every time a person provides, for free, services to an organization, it takes away from services he could provide, for free, to a widow, an orphan, or a person in financial need. As far as ministries go, I would much rather invest my time and skills in people, not programs.

And as far as ministries go, the local church congregation can lead the way by placing a value on the work done by its members, and severely limiting the amount it asks its people to do for free. Church members have families, jobs, household chores, and lives — all of which they regularly subvert when the pastor, or the elder, or the improvement committee, calls upon them to do “the Lord’s work,” as if the lives they are already living do not represent that work.

Salvation is free: a beauteous gift bountifully bestowed on humanity by a generous and loving God.

As recipients of this gift, let us be known, as well, for our bounteous generosity — not our parsimonious cheapness.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I seek, through essays, to distinguish between Christianity, and our culture’s interpretation of it. The latter is a substitute for the real thing — a form of idolatry, actually — and it is part of our journey to find the real Christ, the real message, the real road to God.

This is an individual journey, my friend, taken with Jesus leading the way, and while we can learn from others — sermons, books, teachers, even essays like this — we ultimately learn, one on one, at Jesus’ feet.

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