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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

The Purposeless, Driven Life

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Christians come in all shapes, sizes, and maturity levels, and the more honest we are, the more fun we are to be with, even if what we’re saying or working through is painful. The other day, someone told me:

For all that many Christians read books ABOUT the Bible, they spend very little time with the Bible itself. This leads to spiritual immaturity, and a stunting of growth. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

For all that many Christians read books ABOUT the Bible, they spend very little time with the Bible itself. This leads to spiritual immaturity, and a stunting of growth. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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“I’m so afraid that Jesus is impatient with me. I don’t read the Bible much, and I don’t know what it says. I don’t think that Jesus can use someone like me.”

Sentences like that always make me ache inside.

It’s not that there’s a problem with the sentiment, it’s that the person mentioning it has been a Christian for many, many years, and attending church, and Bible studies, and small group meetings, for just about that long. If this stuff worked, I thought, then why isn’t it, well, working?

While it’s easy to blame the individual (that’s what businesses and corporations and organizations and governments  and establishments always do), perhaps it’s time to look at what we’re telling that individual to do, specifically, when it comes to advancing his or her spiritual life.

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Read This

“Read this book,” we say, handing them the latest in Celebrity Christian Cr –, um,  pap. “We’re having a small group study on it, and we’re going through one chapter each week.”

Gracious. The whole process sounds mind numbingly boring. The last several times I’ve been in the Christian books section of a store I’ve paged through the multi-million-copy best seller that just about every evangelical church in the country has done manifold weekly studies on, one agonizing chapter at a time, and I just can’t manage a paragraph before I feel like getting an egg salad sandwich, something I’ve never actually eaten because the very sight of one makes me nauseous.

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The Fruit Vendor inspirational original oil painting of South American woman at market stall by Steve Henderson

Growth as a Christian requires good spiritual food, and the best source of that is directly at the Source — God Himself, through His word. The Fruit Vendor, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Fare such as this (the book, not the sandwich), however, is what we regularly feed the minds, and spirits, of believers – even “seasoned” ones who should be mature by now — in the name of “growing as a Christian.”

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“Growing as a Christian is something that Jesus wants us to do,” we read in our weekly gatherings. “He wants us to be strong in our faith as believers.”

Paul’s Not Impossible to Understand

Well yes, that’s true, but Paul said it better when he commented, in Colossians 3:1-2:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Further reading of the passage encourages us to put away a fairly complete list of inappropriate, but highly human behaviors, and exchange them, instead, for Godly ones, not a task we are up to on our own, but then again, God doesn’t expect us to do these things without His help.

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“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing gratitude in your hearts to God,” Paul concludes at the end of the passage.

 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” – that’s the secret, you know, one that doesn’t require years of specialized training before we can start, nor one that devours 18 or so weeks of our lives, one chapter at a time.

Celebrity Teaching versus Truth

If as many people who have read “study” books would invest as much time and effort into reading the Book that the other books give the illusion of talking about, perhaps there would be less guilt, less insecurity, less spiritual agony by people who are well taught in the teachings of Celebrity Christians, but not the Bible.

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Read the Bible. Just the Bible, which, ironically, in many “Bible” studies is not the central focus. While it’s tempting to think that you can’t understand it all, that’s okay – because nobody, not even the people who write books about how to study it, understand it all, nor does everyone agree on what every verse means. If you trust yourself enough to read the Book that is written in your own language, and do so regularly, you may find insight into passages that you never knew you could have.

You, yes, you, can make discoveries from this rich, relevant resource.

Afraid that you’ll misinterpret or get something wrong? Well, if that doesn’t bother the Celebrity Christians, don’t let it bother you.  When you enter into study diligently, with a humble heart willing to be taught by the Master, He’ll find ways to guide and correct you.

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At the very least, when you read God’s words, you read His promises, many of which have to do with His being there, His being merciful and kind and patient, His love for His children, and you won’t have to live, chronically, with the doubts of the woman I mentioned earlier in this essay, because when you make a regular point of reading sentences like this:

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6)

And this,

“I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Isaiah 41: 10)

You encounter and appreciate the nature of our Father, a nature so oppositional to anything we are accustomed to dealing with on this earth, that we can’t fathom it, at all, unless we learn about it from its primary source, God.

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So . . . read His book. It’s a best seller.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, there are a lot of people who call themselves Christian in this world, but they’re satisfied with serving a substitute Christ, as opposed to getting to know the real one. So they read books that talk ABOUT the Bible, but never the Bible itself.

Or, if they do read the Bible, they never do so on their own, relying, always, on another human being to interpret it for them. This is not the path to becoming a strong Christian, which may explain why — while a lot of people call themselves Christians — very few are mature ones.

That doesn’t have to be you, or me.

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Christian Misfits: “You Have a Beautiful Face”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I’m sure that most of you, at some time, have found yourself in public in a somewhat disheveled state.

“Nobody I know will see me,” you tell yourself. And, of course, that’s when too many people you know do, indeed see you, their first comment generally being,

“Oh my gosh! Have you been sick? You look AWFUL.”

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with radishes by Steve Henderson

This is a beautiful face — because it is innocent, trusting, and dependent upon the goodness and care of someone stronger and wiser. Isn’t that the description of a Christian? Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

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Last week, an elderly relative who lives 30 miles away fell and hurt herself, and a significant amount of lay-nursing fell upon my shoulders. I was leaving the grocery store with an assortment of necessary stuff and things when a frail, older gentleman, sitting on a bench, said something that I didn’t quite catch.

I stopped and politely asked him to repeat himself.

“You have a beautiful face,” he said, gently smiling.

Seriously?

It had been two days since I washed my hair, I was wearing no make-up, and I’d slept (not much), in my clothes. Adding to that, I could recognize the strongly subtle signs of dementia in my admirer. At the best of times, I would be set aback by a total stranger telling me that I have a beautiful face, but this time — not quite the best of times — I grabbed onto that compliment and took it for the encouragement I needed right then.

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Because by all conventional standards, I do not have a beautiful face — not in the sense that Hollywood and mass media push and promote, and tuck and nip, and airbrush and PhotoShop, as a beautiful face. My looks are the, “your beauty comes from within,” type thing, and I’m fine with that since I look basically like a human being, and all human beings — made in the image of God — have beautiful faces.

So what does this have to do with being a Christian misfit?

No True Home on This Earth

In Matthew 8:18-20, admirers are pressing around Jesus when a teacher of the law approaches Him and says,

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.

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“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'”

Off the Grid inspirational original oil painting landscape of meadow and highland road by Steve Henderson

It’s not smooth; it’s definitely circuitous; and you frequently have to walk it — the narrow road takes us to places that the wide road cannot. Off the Grid, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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Following Jesus — while it is truly the only way to find peace and contentment on this contentious planet of ours — is not easy, and while many Christians try to convince themselves that they’re on the narrow road of following Jesus, a substantial number of them are on a smooth, wide highway.

The Wide “Christian” Road

Absorbed in busyness, obsessed by finding their “ministry,” satisfied with organized meetings, prone to reading the notes at the bottom of the Bible page as opposed to the verses above, fascinated by celebrity Christians who urge them to “listen to me; listen to me NOW,” they are fooled by Hollywood’s interpretation of a beautiful face. They hand out tracts in public places, and when people (understandably) tell them to blow off, they say, “Oh! I’m being persecuted for Christ!”

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Or, overhearing someone using words that rhyme with cluck and sit and well, they admonish, “My Lord Jesus Christ is offended by your language and I must ask you to be respectful and stop.”

When the natural response comes, invoking the name of Christ in a less than respectful way, the admonishers declare, “Oh! I’m walking the narrow road!”

The narrow road, however, is a lonely road, and a rough one, with stones, sometimes, to lay our heads upon. People embarking upon this road frequently observe,

“The people I thought were my friends (many of them from church) . . . aren’t. I feel like I am walking alone.”

Alone with Christ

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To a certain extent, my Christian misfit, you are — that’s why you’re a misfit: you don’t fit into the parameters of establishment Christianity. There is not pew upon which you can sit; no fellowship table where you can drink coffee and eat donuts.

While it’s nice to fit in, to be a part of the group, God has a tendency to call His people out — alone with Him in the desert — like Abraham, who left his homeland and his people; or Joshua and Caleb, the only two men in their generation who trusted God enough to be willing to obey Him; or Peter and John and James, who told Christ, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19: 27)

What then, indeed? John in Revelation 1:9 describes himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.”

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He was alone, on an island, far away from song service and small group study and leadership training and visitation committees and all the busy, purposeless things that we fill our hours with instead of serious prayer, listening, and walking to lonely places where we meet only a few others.

But those few others — those fellow misfits — they have such beautiful faces.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Daily, I meet Christian misfits — in person, online, via the mail — and I pray for you, because the road we’re walking isn’t an easy one.

But it’s taking us to a good place. And along the way, God introduces to us truth seekers — people who don’t know Him very well but want to. Their questions make sense to us because they’re ones we’ve had ourselves, and we can accept those questions without being defensive — or offensive.

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Is God Calling You?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In our church days, when I sat in an interlocking chair, stared ahead at the big white screen, and sang words that flashed by, I used to wonder, vaguely, if God was calling me to do something, and I wasn’t hearing.

After all, the church had all sorts of ministry opportunities. Although many of them I was unqualified for because I hadn’t gone through the newly implemented Leadership Training Classes, there were many mundane options, like coordinating the Interlocking Chair Set Up and Take Down committee (which, for some reason, NOBODY wanted to be involved in).

Peruvian Fishermen inspirational oil painting of boats on beach by ocean sea by Steve Henderson

God called the disciples away from a lifestyle they knew and were comfortable with, but He still wanted them to fish. Peruvian Fisherman, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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But I wasn’t interested. Burnt out after years of a Wednesday night children’s program that never could figure out if it was teaching church kids or attracting unchurched ones, I continued to arrive, Sunday mornings, and sing the words in front of my face. I reminded myself that working hard, loving my family, and caring for the people strewn across my path were worthy things to do.

God Is Calling . . .

And then God forcefully and unmistakably called me. Actually, He called our entire family, and it involved, initially, a whole bunch of really bad circumstances that were extremely painful to go through. God didn’t cause this pain — but He was there, along with a very few others, to get us through.

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Simultaneously, we found ourselves increasingly disengaged with our weekly church experience, and while some would say this is because of our stubbornness to not go along with the program and take those Leadership Training Classes, it’s actually because of those classes — and the change in climate and attitude in the congregation around us — that we eventually left.

We simply couldn’t fit into the new way of thinking, the new insistence upon doing things one rigid, corporate-driven, inflexible way, and one Sunday — it was Easter — it snapped. We realized that we were bored, vulnerable, tired of being pariahs, and finished with fitting in. We weren’t growing, we weren’t deepening our relationship with Christ, and we certainly weren’t interested in the limited options we were given to “serve” Him.

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An Unusual Direction

“It’s unusual that God would call you out of a church situation,” someone once told me. “I’ve never heard of that before.”

Catching the Breeze inspirational original oil painting of woman walking on beach by ocean sea by Steve Henderson

Walking alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and without distractions, we see and experience more. Catching the Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Neither had we, which is one reason we fought to stay in for so long, compromising our beliefs, giving in where there was no reciprocity, convincing ourselves that a weekly touching of bases — in a highly controlled environment — was fellowship.

The book of Mark, Chapters 7 and 8, contains two incidences of Jesus healing, both of which involve, interestingly, spit, as well as leading the people to be healed . . .  out: Mark 7: 31-37 describes Jesus with a deaf man who could hardly talk, and,

“After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!'”)

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“At this, the mans ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.”

In Mark 8: 22-26, Jesus “took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’

“He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’

“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened; his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t go into the village.'”

Out, and Away

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In both cases, Jesus took the person to be healed aside: “away from the crowd,” or “outside the village.” The healing process was unusual, very hands on, and — I imagine — not particularly pleasant. But it was effective.

One man’s ears were opened  and he was able to speak plainly; another man received sight, in stages:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5)

As Christians, we tend to assume that the blind/deaf issue is permanently taken care of when we find Christ, and to some extent it is. But there is a very real misconception that, as long as we say we’re Christians and are attending church, that we see and hear, somehow, and that we are awake, but if this were so, there would be no reason for warnings like 1 Thessalonians 5:6:

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“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,”

or Colossians 4:2:

“Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

It is easy to fall into complacency, mistaking busyness for service, repetition of words for prayer, meetings for fellowship, accepting someone else’s commentary for Bible study. The requirements are rigid but tempting to accept, and too many do.

In my experience, Church People — a more accurate description for many Christians — are asleep, readily accepting what they are told, and quick to jump on, or at, the people we’re instructed to hate: radical Muslims, or the liberal left, or anyone who speaks against Israel (there are, after all, Christian Palestinians)

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It’s not all church people, and I’m not advocating that all people leave church, but I am advocating — regardless of where, or how much, or even if, you attend church —  getting very serious about your relationship with Christ, and being willing to follow where He leads you — which may very well be away from the wide, safe road where everyone is singing songs, and lifting hands, and taking notes from the sermon.

(I know, you thought you were on the narrow path already, didn’t you?)

If He is trying to open your ears and yours eyes, so that you can hear and see — and speak — He may very well lead you out of the village.

Follow Him.

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Let me stop some of you right now: we’re happy where we are, in our unchurched situation, and while the experience of being pushed out of the church setting was initially painful, we would never undo it.

We also know that there is no such thing as a perfect church body/setting, and we are not looking for one. We interact with fellow believers in whatever manner God presents before us, and we encourage all Christians to remember that we — the saints who believe in Christ — are the church — not a building, not a denomination, and not a weekly service.

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Is Singing in Church the Only Way to Worship?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If you’re a Christian, and you’ve attended church, then you probably recognize the term: “Worship Service.”

This is the time, just after the announcements and immediately before the sermon, when the congregation corporately sings — from the hymnal or off the PowerPoint words on a giant white screen. Generally, we’re helped along in the process by the “Worship Team.”

If I actually knew how to play the piano, I would incorporate this in my worship, but since I'm musically inept, I close my eyes and listen to those who do play well. And I think. That's how I worship. Photo Credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

If I actually knew how to play the piano, I would incorporate this in my worship, but since I’m musically inept, I close my eyes and listen to those who do play well. And I think. That’s how I worship. Photo Credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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Years ago, my husband the Norwegian Artist and I were part of this team (I know, sometimes I’m surprised at myself, too): he played the guitar and I stood up with two other women in front of the microphone and sang, because otherwise, some of those songs — especially contemporary ones that need to be replicated exactly the way they are performed on the radio — are too difficult to get through.

(Why not just play the song digitally? I always wondered. We’ll just close our eyes and listen.)

The Worship Plan

Now every church and every congregation has its own way of doing things, but generally there is a “worship plan” as to what songs are chosen, how many, and in what order, so while the specifics vary, the concept of the Plan does not. At the time we were on the worship team, the Plan looked like this:

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1) Two songs, quick and lively, immediately before announcements.

2) After announcements, 5 songs, following a theme — prayer, joy, patriotism, spiritual war, etc.  We began on a faster, upbeat note and transitioned into a thoughtful, slow, meditative mood. Some days, we were “Jewish,” meaning that everything was in a minor key and sounded like the musical score of Fiddler on the Roof. Other days, we were thoroughly American Gentile, staying firmly on that major key.

3) Two hymns/three contemporary choruses or three hymns/two contemporary choruses. Occasionally, if the songs were short enough, we could sing 6 songs, or 7, but the general time limit was around 15 minutes.

4) If I had any say, at all, I shot down all songs that involved words like, “I lift my hands up,” because I felt like a thorough idiot waving my arms about in front of 150 people and pretending as if I didn’t know they were there. Of course they are there — they’re staring at me.

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Ocean Breeze inspirational oil painting of woman onocean beach at sunset with dress and fabric by Steve Henderson

When I do raise my arms — an extremely intimate, submissive gesture — I do so alone in the presence of my Holy Father, because His are the only eyes that need to see. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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5) At the close of the Worship Service, we quietly and prayerfully exited the stage, heads bowed, while the pastor strode to the podium and adjusted the microphone clipped to his tie. Worship time is officially over.

Announcements, Songs, Sermon

In every evangelical Christian church we have attended in a lifetime of attending church services, this is what Worship looks like, with variations, as mentioned before, on the type or number of songs sung. What is a given, however, is that there is a Plan, and that Plan is adhered to. In the allotted 10-20 minutes, the congregation sings —  “worships” — with no allowance made for extending the time if people are really getting into it, because that sermon, you know, is mandatory.

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When we stopped attending weekly church services and started walking the narrow, winding path of the difficult, dissident, independent Christian, I wondered, at first, how I would “worship.”

Not being a particularly good singer (or so my family says) and totally incapable of playing any musical instrument, I figured that worship was no longer a part of my life — because I wasn’t singing, and according to contemporary church culture, worship consists of controlled, corporate, group singing. In bigger churches, it looks more like a concert, and the people in the congregation aren’t really necessary because they’re not as professional as the team up front. (In smaller churches, that doesn’t tend to be an issue.)

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The Traditions of Men

So for years, as I sought God, prayed, rested in His arms, meditated upon Scripture, marveled at creation, and thought deeply about truth, peace, hope, and joy, I didn’t worship.

Or did I? Like many aspects of contemporary establishment corporate Christianity, worship is defined by what we do in church services: we sing, as group, led by a smaller group.

When we pray, we pray, as a group, led by an elder, deacon, or pastor.

When we study Scripture, we do so in a group, guided by a Small Group Leader who is most likely an elder, a deacon, or a pastor. (If it’s “just” women, or children, a deaconess can preside, but not if there’s any testosterone in the room.)

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I am reminded of Jesus’s words in Mark 7: 6-8, when He responds to the Pharisees’ accusations that Christ’s disciples don’t “live according to the tradition of the elders,”

“He replied — Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but the rules taught by men.’

“You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

There’s nothing wrong with singing in church, but more than one person has commented, “I don’t feel what the words are saying, but I’m singing them anyway. Is that wrong?”

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Stop Limiting Ourselves

Not necessarily, but your question is good. Recognize that worshiping God is not limited, defined, or confined by gathering in a group and following the leaders behind the microphones.

Worship Him alone, at home, on your own — whether or not you sing — by simply focusing on His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His love, His sheer perfection. Read His Word, and seek its truth.

Psalm 100 tells us to “Shout for joy to the Lord,” and I’m sure there will be some mega-church, somewhere, that will make a movement out of doing this literally.

“Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 

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“Know that the Lord is God . . . give thanks to him and praise his name.”

Sing, if you wish. Or listen to beautiful music (it doesn’t have to be “Christian”), and let it carry you upward. Or be silent. There is no standard rule — a tradition of men — that God requires you to follow in worshiping Him.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I reach out to, and try to find, the Christians who don’t fit into, or are tired of, contemporary establishment church culture.

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