Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

The Atheist’s Cry to God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Out in the wheat fields, alone, we can safely talk to, or shout at, God. Off the Grid, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Recently, someone sent me this quote by Marc Barnes of Bad Catholic:

“Somehow, a hostile hatred of God is closer to love than a bored and boring apathy, for it strives — at the very least — to meet His gaze and live.”

Rare, or non-existent, is the person who has made it through life so far without shouting/swearing/ranting/raving at God for whatever is going on — or not going on — and an honest person will admit that he is not Job.

If You’re Dumb Like Me . . .

But if you are stupid enough, like I am, to mention in religious social circles that you have raged at God — which generally implies that some of your language choices have been questionable — you will frequently meet with severe disapprobation.

This fear of disapprobation nearly prevented a friend of mine from sharing with me about the time she spends, alone, in the wheat fields surrounding her house, shouting. I could feel her eyes on my face, seeking out the disgust that she knew would be there.

“I shout in the car,” I replied. “I try to do it in such a way that fellow motorists and pedestrians don’t notice, so my favorite venue is the highway.”

Because my morality score with the bored and apathetic Christians, the ones who satisfy themselves exclusively with Sunday morning attendance and weekly small group meetings, is so low, I do not worry about justifying what they would consider a severe lack of faith. (Incidentally, not all Christians are bored and apathetic, and those who are not, battle this perception.) My concern is for people like my friend as well as for the hidden seekers: wounded people who lash out at God for His perceived lack of concern, His silence, His indifference to human suffering, which includes their own.

People Seeking the REAL God

Some of these people call themselves atheists, unable to believe in the cold, distant, disapproving God that so many people are satisfied to say that they serve. Their anger masks the disappointment they’ve encountered in not finding the God that they — and all of us, really — are looking for:

There is everything right in wanting the right thing, not the substitute: a real relationship with someone who loves us. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

We need a God who cares about us the way a true, decent father cares about his children — one who loves us unconditionally, who picks us up and cradles us when we fall, who patiently guides us to be better, kinder, compassionate people — the kind who mirror the parent we run to for protection and love.

That’s the only God worth looking for, serving, loving, and submitting ourselves to — and while this is the way God really is, the way He is presented in the marketplace today isn’t particularly appealing. That we cannot bare our raw emotions in front of Him without being scourged by onlookers is evidence enough that our conventional, established, weekly interpretation of God isn’t the real thing.

The Opposite of Love Is Hate, Not Apathy

Anyone who has been jilted in a close personal relationship knows that the standard human reaction by the jilted person isn’t apathy — it’s hate — because someone whom you cared about very very much hurt you. If you hadn’t loved them so much, desired a relationship with them so fervently, then you wouldn’t react with so much emotion and angst.

So it is with many — but not all (isn’t there always a caveat?) — people who say that they hate God. It’s not that they don’t have a heart for Him, but that, at some point, they gave that heart to Him, and they felt that it was returned, torn apart, and tossed into a box. They were looking for love, and they found indifference.

If this is you, I encourage you to keep looking, and don’t be sidetracked by the many shallow interpretations and explanations for who and what God is: He is either all goodness, or He is not. My conviction that He is the former is what keeps me following Him, calling to Him, shouting in the car.

It’s Better to Shout in the Car

Revelation 3:15-16 speaks to complacent, apathetic believers:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

People may call you, as they call me, weak for expressing anger so fervently and openly, but even if we express our passion “wrongly,” we do so because we feel – deeply — and we demand and desire a God who fulfills our rawest spiritual and emotional needs. In your anger and bitterness, you are closer to finding Him than many people who boast that they know Him very well.

 

 

Christian Prosperity: What Does It Look Like?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When you don’t own a sailboat, and you seem to be the only person in your neighborhood who doesn’t, you wonder what is wrong with you. Golden Sea, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

As an intelligent person, I know that the Make a Million NOW! type books only make a million for a limited number of people, not the least of which are the authors. Nonetheless, there’s always that little bit of aggressive, greedy American in me who thinks,

“But what if they really work?”

“What if it really is easy to be a millionaire, and I’m just too dumb to do it?”

And then my mind flies back into my body again and I move on with life because logic alone tells you that if making a million dollars were as easy as the books promise, we’d all be sipping Mai Tais by our swimming pool.

It’s bad enough that these books abound, but not surprising, because humans being what we are, we like stuff and lots of it, and anyone who can tell us how to get lots of stuff has our attention.

The Love of Money, and Christians

Unless we’re Christians, that is, because as Christians we don’t live in a world ruled by money and an insatiable desire to have more and more things.

Or do we?

The other day at a hotel the Norwegian Artist and I were flipping through the 596 channels available on Direct TV when we saw a series of familiar faces (“Wasn’t he arrested several years ago for fraud?”) and a bunch of new ones, but all of the mouths were uttering pretty much the same message:

“JESUS has a plaaaaaan for your life!”

“JESUS is the God of ABUNDANCE, and He wants you to share in his Gloooooooorious riches!”

“The Power of JESUS will answer your prayers!”

Where Does the Money Come From?

To make sure that the latter prophecy comes true, it’s important to buy the book, whatever it is and whoever it’s by, and while you’re at it, tuck in an extra $50 to keep this valuable ministry going. The scary thing about these messages is that, if you listen to them long enough, you might start to believe them.

Apparently people do, because the faces with the message — who are, indeed, enjoying an abundance of material blessings — don’t go away. And you wonder,

If you feel small and defenseless in the face of a big world, that’s okay. Your life is in the hands of a Big God. Bold Innocence, licensed open edition art print by Steve Henderson.

“What if it’s true? What if the reason that I’m struggling is because I really don’t know the ‘secret’ to tapping into the Power of God? What if I’m truly a faith-lacking, weak, useless Christian?”

Yes, You’re Weak, and That’s Okay

Well, if it’s any help, yes, you’re weak and yes, you lack faith — we all do. God is the strong one, and the faith we need to get through each day comes from Him, not us, so relax on those counts.

But I know what you’re saying: “What if I’m a loser?”

If you’re a loser because you’re not rich and powerful and famous, then you’re in good company with all of the apostles, a series of martyrs that continue to the present day, and Jesus Himself, because when the Christian life, my friend, talks about riches, it isn’t referring to the numbers in your bank account.

But if you’re still doubtful, because the message of prosperity is so strong and pervasive, then change channels and listen to a different type of evangelist — Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Christian author and minister who spent a total of 14 years in prison; he was the founder of the Voice of the Martyrs and the author of Tortured for Christ, from which this quote derives:

Another Kind of Christian Lifestyle

“The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. When I lost consciousness or became too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confession, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead, to regain a little strength so they could work on me again.

“Many died at this stage, but somehow my strength always managed to return. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut eighteen holes in my body.

“When my family and I were ransomed out of Romania and brought to Norway, doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself that it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles.

“I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church in persecuted countries. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message of your suffering, faithful brethren.”

Wurmbrand rejoiced because God performed a miracle in his life.

And it had nothing to do with a new car.

Do you feel humbled? I know I do.

 

 

Baaaaaaaaadddd Christians — Redeemed!

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We choose the oddest people, or otherwise, to get excited about, and even Christians fall into idolizing celebrities. Ruby, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Within Christian circles, we enjoy stories about people who have really, really messed up and then, through Christ, turned their lives around.

You know, former gang members, Mafia hit men, millionaires who lost it all and lived in the streets, raging alcoholics who will just have a coffee now, thank you. They make people like me, and a lot of you, look . . . boring.

Some lives make great published books, movies, and speaking engagements, because the people who lived them were so outrageously involved in appalling activities that we flock to them for inspiration:

“Wow. He was responsible for the financial ruin of thousands of innocent people, and now, praise Jesus, he’s saved. Do you know that he has a talk show?”

Of course, in our society where the book is outdated shortly after it’s printed, we rarely follow up on these people, and we don’t know much of the continuing story, but for a week or so, they’re all the rage.

We’re Promoting the Wrong Message

Without intending to, our fascination with extreme badness, redeemed, offers a few subtle messages:

1) Being bad, really really bad, pays off in publicity, fame, and money.

2) Jesus solves problems instantaneously, and although we’ve been bad, really really bad, once we trust in Him, we are completely and totally free from all the troubles that plagued us in our pre-Jesus life.

3) Unless we have been bad, really really bad, we have nothing of interest to say to anybody. Nobody — book publishers, Christian women’s lunch clubs, Oprah — is interested in us.

Let’s address these misconceptions:

1) The consequences to our actions generally last a long, long time, so while redemption from extreme badness may result in fame, fleeting or not, the hurt we’ve caused, the lives we’ve damaged (including our own), the dishes we’ve broken — don’t go away. Through Christ, thank God we receive forgiveness, but this doesn’t necessarily absolve us from restitution: paying back the people we’ve cheated, serving a prison term for the crimes we’ve committed, replacing teeth that meth addiction destroyed, accepting that some people will never forgive us and there’s no way we can make them do so.

Change takes time, and it happens through many seasons in our lives. Autumn Sail by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas

Do you think that the apostle Peter ever forgot that he denied Christ three times? Or that the apostle Paul blithely disremembered lives that were destroyed, because of him, prior to his conversion? The pain of these memories fused into the fiber of their being, affecting the remainder of their lives — and while God takes bad things and uses them for good, memories and regrets remain. The consequences of our past actions become a part of the way we live through our future.

It is only through grace, and Christ’s love, that we keep standing, and walking. This process tends to not be particularly exciting or glamorous, and when it’s working, it leads us toward humility, as opposed to fame.

Change Is Not as Easy as It Seems

2) While it is true that some people are immediately, completely, and miraculously cured of an addiction, like alcohol abuse, most people slog through the tedious, dreary day-by-day challenge of overcoming what has enslaved them. While this isn’t as dramatic and worthy of Tweeting about as an instant cure, it’s reality, and the people who go through it possess a sense of compassion, empathy, humility, and grace that is actually helpful to those around them who are also struggling.

Think of it: when you’re hurting, who helps you out more:

Person A: Jesus healed me and I’ve never had a problem with it since!

or

Person B: I know what you’re going through, because I battle with it every day. Christ gives me strength, and He is giving it to you, too. Hang in there, and hold tight to His hand — it’s His strength that will save you, not yours.

You Matter

3) Every single Christian has a story, and the means to help other people on this planet. Your unique experiences and life, in tandem with your walking close to the Master of the Universe, mean that you do, indeed, have something to say, whether or not it’s on national TV. (Don’t hold out for being on the cover of the Oprah Magazine; the qualifications for this position are pretty stringent.)

You’re too ordinary to be interesting? Don’t worry about it — there are 7 billion ordinary people walking around on this planet. It’s God who is extraordinary, and when we focus on his amazingness as opposed to promoting our own, everyone wins.

 

10 Ways to Be a Successful Christian

posted by Carolyn Henderson

What makes a successful Christian is different than what makes a successful financier. Fortunately. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I’m not a fan of bullet pointed lists, which is why most of my articles are not titled the way this one is. While it’s nice, and convenient, to see things in list form, life isn’t necessarily lived that way, unless we’re talking about 6 solutions to the cat pooping outside the litter box, or 5 proven techniques to get your teenagers to pick up their stuff off of the floor (please, if anyone has that list, send it to me).

But as a concession to popular demand, I give you, this one time, 10 ways to be a successful Christian:

The List

1) Talk to God. A lot. I tend to do this in my head, since thinking is faster than speaking, in the same way that typing is faster than writing by hand. And people don’t look at you weirdly. Praying is essentially talking to God, as if He were a Person, which He is. You just can’t see Him, touch Him, or audibly hear Him, necessarily, but He does communicate back.

2) Read the Bible for yourself, in a way that you find enjoyable. Do you know how many incredible stories are in that book? Read them, like stories. If you find yourself getting bogged down and bored, go somewhere else. God wrote the book — and a good way of getting to know any author is by reading what he writes.

Find Something You Understand

3) While you’re at it, find a translation that you enjoy and comprehend. There is no rule that you have to read the King James Version, and since we haven’t spoken in that fashion for 500 years or so, it is understandable if you get frustrated.

You’ll enjoy reading something more when you understand what it says. Christmas Story, original painting and signed limited edition print by Steve Henderson.

4) You know how we always throw out the term, “Personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” Take the “personal” part seriously and recognize that you can function outside a corporate body, and study the Bible independently of a pastor, deacon, elder, deaconess, or Sunday School teacher. God has made you an intelligent being, and He has no problem with your using that intelligence.

“Ministries” Are Over-Rated

5) Stop worrying about your “ministry.” As a Christian, you are on, 24/7, and every moment of your day is given to God. You are not useful only when you are teaching a class, or leading a group, or speaking at the front of the building. Wherever you are, and whatever you do, you live with a hope inside of you that many people do not have. When you focus on that hope, and the Person who gives it to us, you automatically minister to those around you.

6) Recognize that you do not have to be strong and put together. 2 Corinthians 4:7 tells us that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Whereas human beings pride themselves on their skill, acumen, intelligence, and ability, God looks for a humble heart that reaches out to Him for wisdom and direction. Are you weak, ineffectual, confused, and limited in your abilities? That’s no problem for God; what does hinder His working through us is our pride, arrogance, and the insistence upon taking over.

HELP!

Talk to God about it. That’s what King David did, all the time. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed art print at Great Big Canvas.

7) Building on number 6, get into the habit of asking God for help. Israel’s first king, Saul, developed a habit of NOT asking God for direction, whereas David, his successor, inquired of the Lord all the time, 1 Samuel Chapter 23 being a good example of this. Now David happened to have a personal priest handy, which many of us lack, but as Christians we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and this is our direct link to the Master. When you ask, God will answer, and you don’t have to worry about “missing” what He says, because He will work with you where you are.

8) Don’t worry that you don’t have the “right” words or pray in the properly prescribed manner. The idea that we have to phrase our requests in a specific fashion, or they won’t work, is an old, old one that continues to sell books and DVDs promising to “unlock” the power of God. Romans 8:26 assures us, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.” Use the money you save on the book to buy yourself a cup of coffee, and sit and meditate.

Be Thankful

9) Thank God, on a regular basis, for the beautiful things that He has given you: food, clothing, a warm home, people who love you, the book you discovered at the library, your hands with the opposable thumbs — the list is endless. Too often it is easy to focus on what we don’t have, especially in relation to what the people around us have (that’s called coveting). Developing an attitude of gratitude results in a happier, more content person that everyone likes to be around.

10) Recognize that you don’t have to earn God’s love — you already have it. I know you’re a screw-up. We all are. Too often, people say, “I’ll get back to God once I get my life together,” when really, you can’t get your life together unless you’re back with God. The unconditional love He shows you is an example of how He wants us to unconditionally love the people around us.

Well that’s 10 — but there are more, which is why I don’t like bullet point lists. Christianity is a lifelong journey, taken one moment at a time, and we keep learning and changing and growing until the last breath leaves our lips.

 

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