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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

The Power of Doubt

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Doubt is an element in any thought process or belief system, and rather than deny it, it’s best to work through it. Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Great Big Canvas.

Doubt is not so much a sin as it is a problem, and like most problems, it’s best to solve it, as opposed to letting it be a part of our continued existence.

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Too often, when a Christian asks a question about God’s goodness, or His ability, or His trustworthiness, the response from others in the room is one of alarm and chastisement:

“Trust in the Lord always! He is good! Amen and amen! Praise Jesus!”

And . . . end of conversation. Whatever provoked or caused the doubt in the Christians’s heart and words hasn’t been addressed, and all we’ve really gotten across is that you, as usual, don’t believe the way you’re supposed to; you, as usual, are at fault for your lack of belief; and you, as usual, should just keep quiet and pretend you have no problems.

Just like the rest of the people in the room are doing.

Doubt Exists

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But doubt is part of our lives for a reason, most notably so that we don’t accept everything we’re told without questioning, and if you are doubting something about God, it’s good to admit it — to yourself, to God; you don’t have to announce it to the panicky people drinking bad coffee in the back of the hall — and ask Him to walk you through it.

Because, ultimately, we want to trust in a good, loving, compassionate God who is all powerful, all knowing, and all wise. The alternative — that we’re pretty much stuck with circumstances as they hit us in the face, here, and that in the afterlife things will look kind of  the same, with some people having so much more and others, like us, having so much less — is something we can’t accept.

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And we shouldn’t.

We Should Doubt Wrong Teaching

Perhaps we are doubting because what we have been taught is wrong — like the pervasive teaching that all we have to do is pray God’s verses over someone, and they’ll be healed (and they’re not, say) or when we ask for anything in His name we’ll get it, because He says so (John 14: 14), and the money doesn’t come.

So we reasonably, and sensibly, ask, “Why? Is it you, God, or is it something about the way I’m understanding things?”

I know it doesn’t seem fair, but 100 percent of the time the answer appears to be the latter. And the only Person who can enable us to understand things better is God Himself, so no matter how hard we try, we can’t run away from Him.

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There are two major things we humans consistently doubt about God:

1) His ability

and

2) His goodness,

and one of the best Bible accounts illustrating both of these is the story of Jesus falling asleep in the boat with His disciples when a storm comes up (Luke 8: 22-25; Matthew 8: 23-27; and Mark 4: 36-40).

“Where Is Your Faith?”

Now what many of us have traditionally been taught regarding this story is  that the disciples should have trusted Jesus because he had told them, “We’re going to the other side.” That makes sense. But consider this as well:

Wind, water, and waves can break up the smooth sailing of a boat on the waters of our lives. On the Horizon, by Steve Henderson, licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

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In all three accounts, the disciples express amazement — and terror — that this man in the boat with them has the ability to command the waves and the water. In other words, He did far more than they thought He could, so when Christ asks them, after He calms the storm, “Where is your faith?” He could have been asking, “Do you not believe that I can do all things?”

And this:

In Mark 4: 38, the disciples wake Jesus up with the phrase,

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

So, not only do they doubt Christ’s ability to take care of the situation, they also doubt His caring enough about them to do so.

You ever felt that way?

Work Through Your Doubt

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I, personally, struggle on a regular basis with trusting God’s goodness; instilling doubt about this goodness is one of Satan’s first and best lies. While I can clearly see God’s hand in the lives of others, a small part of me is convinced that He’s a bit busy, or distracted, or asleep in the stern with his head on a cushion, when it comes to my needs, and that’s why it’s taking so long for particular prayers to be answered.

The disciples’ words are comforting because they illustrate that I, and you, and the panicky people drinking coffee in the back of the room, are not alone in this thought, the only person in history who has thought this way. We walk away from the passage feeling comforted, as opposed to chastised because we’re such miserable slobs who . . . doubt.

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Do not run away from doubt, and do not accept that you must live with it. Left unchecked, doubt has the power to erode belief, but squarely faced and tackled, it can lead us forward. Recognize that it will show up — often at the most inopportune times — and instead of reacting with recoil —

“I shouldn’t doubt! I shouldn’t doubt! I shouldn’t doubt!”

bring the issue to God and say,

“You are compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet you do not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34: 6-7)

“Please, teach me Who you are.”

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I have drunk a lot of bad coffee in my time, and been told many times, “Praise Jesus! You need to just TRUST Him!” It’s hard to respond, because generally the person who just said that turns around and starts talking to someone else.

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Satan’s Three Lies

posted by Carolyn Henderson

This is Archie Goodwin, whose expression gives us an idea of how we should approach the lies Satan feeds us. Keep your eyes open, and stay alert. Don’t let him step on you.

If you read the Gospels at all, at some point you’ll run into the temptation of Jesus, by Satan, in the desert, since the story is in three out of four of the books (Matthew 4: 1-11; Mark 1: 12, 13; and Luke 4: 1-13).

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Like many accounts in the Bible, it’s easy to read through these quickly and say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen that before,” and not slow down to focus on what the passage is saying. What it’s saying, however, is pretty important to us, because it shows us the three major ways that Satan tempts, teases, and tortures us because those are the three options he offered to Jesus:

Jesus “was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4: 1)

What are these temptations?

The Bare Necessities

1) We doubt that God will meet our basic needs. At the end of 40 days of no eating, Jesus was hungry, so Satan told Him,

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“If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

We ourselves use a variation of this when we pray to God, “If you’re really God, then provide me with the rent money. And the car insurance is due next week.”

God knows we need food. And clothes. And He understands that, though we no longer walk around in robes and herd sheep for a living, the exigencies of modern life are heavy upon us:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Matthew 6: 31-32)

That’s what Jesus tells us. What we can tell Satan is what Jesus told him, earlier:

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“It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone.'” (Luke 4: 4) Satan wants you to doubt God; God wants you to trust Him. Choose.

Money. Power. Stuff.

2) We want the good things in life, and those good things aren’t free.

Luke 4: 5 tells us that “the devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, ‘I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.'”

The beauty of God’s creation is meant for all of us, not just a select, greedy few. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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Most humans can be bought for far less, and they have been. In the big leagues, we find elite cadres of beings who control world markets, media, politics, and people, but on a smaller level, we all succumb to Satan’s lie when we don’t mention, to the person interested in buying our car, that it inexplicably stalls at random times, and the mechanic can’t figure out what’s wrong with it.

We’re so desperate to get that few hundred dollars that we’ll lie — and face it, holding back information that you have, they don’t, and will make a difference in the final sale, is a lie.

Jesus tells us, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6: 33). By the time we seek, and find God’s kingdom and righteousness, the stuff we were looking for before won’t matter as much, and Satan’s offer may not seem so tempting. But it will continue to be so when we seek the riches of the world first, foremost, and primarily over the kingdom of God.

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Believing the Lie over Trusting the Truth

3) We distrust the innate, and inerrant, goodness, compassion, and mercy of God.

“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here. For it is written — “He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully.”‘” (Luke 4: 9-10)

We’ve all experienced prayers that go apparently unanswered, and when things don’t go our way, it is very, very tempting (there’s that word) to believe that God has forgotten about us, or He prefers other people to us.

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“Prove to me that you love me, God,” we pray. “Give me a sign.”

And while there is nothing wrong, in and of itself, to ask God to show us, somehow, in what direction to go, it’s a sure recipe for failure to make the existence, or not, of any sign the evidence of God’s care for us. He’s already told us, multiple times, that we matter to Him:

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41: 10)

Either we believe Him, or we don’t; either He’s telling the truth, or He’s lying. If He’s telling the truth, then it’s offensive to ask Him to prove Himself (“Do not put the Lord your God to the test” Luke 4: 12). If He’s lying, then we have no hope at all, and it’s a waste of time my writing this column.

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Those are the three major lies, and knowing what they are and that they will be used against us — regularly — is the first step toward not falling into their pit.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4: 7)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write on a regular basis about us regular people, and how we follow our extraordinary God. We do it one by one, personally, in a relationship with Him, and we do not need any mediator — priest, pastor, psychologist, or pop culture Christian celebrity — to “help” us with this.

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Worthless in the World’s Eyes

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Lots of things, like children, are considered worthless in the world’s eyes. Do we need to accept this way of thinking? Wild Child, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Tradition is great stuff. If you attend church, you know that once a year you’ll read Luke Chapter 2 — the birth of Jesus, and given the amount of actual Bible reading that too many Christians do throughout the rest of the year, this may be the only time they see it.

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Which is too bad, because we’re so caught up with lighting candles and preparing Advent speeches and trying to find the baby Jesus statue of the Nativity set, that we miss the overwhelming significance of this One-Time-in-the-Universe event.

This was it, folks — the fulfillment of a promise made long long ago in the garden, where Adam and Eve hung their heads in shame because they messed it up, big time, for all of us. There was absolutely no way they could fix what they broke, because, “your wound is incurable, your injury beyond healing. There is no one to plead your cause, no remedy for your sore, no healing for you.” (Jeremiah 30: 12-13)

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God Alone Could Fix This

Only God could fix this, and on that night in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago, He sent His Son, our Redeemer and Savior, in the form of a baby. God never does things the way we expect Him to. Human logic dictates that He should have sent an elite squadron of heavenly hosts in black op, with Angels emblazoned across the back.

But back to Luke: take a close look at verses Luke 2: 8-20, in which the angels — THERE they are! — appear to a group of “shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”

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Have you ever wondered why they appeared to shepherds, other than that, thousands of years later, shepherds would make a great addition to the figurine collection in a Nativity set?

Shepherding 101

We don’t have a lot of shepherds in our societies today, and the average university student doesn’t embark upon a degree leading to Shepherding Management and Business Techniques, with a minor in Goats. Shepherds, in Jesus’ day, were the equivalent of office drones in ours, or retail clerks — hardworking hourly wage earners who put in long hours for little pay, receive little or no recognition for their skills, ambitions, intellect or cognitive abilities, and have no need to keep Linked In profiles because they’re not considered professionals, at all.

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They’re — in the world’s eyes — nobodies.

Like me. Without meaning to sound like Eeyore, I’m a nobody, an ordinary person who doesn’t know what a stock option looks like, a writer who is — according to a recent article about these things — “one of a large population of underpaid bloggers providing content for little or nothing.” (Ouch.) There are millions of us — ordinary people who are tired of being talked to and instructed and manipulated and controlled, and our primary fault is that we let people do this to us: we buy their books. We read about them in People Magazine. We Tweet about their inanity. We make Facebook memes of their funny, or pithy, statements.

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We feed and feed and feed the egos and bank accounts of all sorts of people who account themselves important for no other reason than that they — and we — think they are. Money does talk, doesn’t it?

Who Got the Message?

And yet, when it came time to announcing the most important event in the world, the people who learned about it first (other than Mary and Joseph, a couple of other nobodies), were a bunch of office workers; er, homemakers; no store clerks; uh, under-and un-employed workers; nah, people — just ordinary people whom nobody thinks about most of the time because they are so extraordinarily unimportant.

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Ordinary people, doing ordinary things — this is human history from the beginning, and it’s the part that matters to most of us. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

There were plenty of professorial persons nearby. And clerics, religious leaders, political statesmen, successful business owners, military personnel, even middle managers — but the angels did not appear to any of these. They made their announcement to unimportant people — so unimportant that they’re not given a name in the Bible, but so significant that the Christmas Story is not complete without them.

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And “they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2: 16-18)

In the eyes of the world, my friend, you’re worthless. Politically, socially, financially, academically, religiously — if you’re not in the elite group, or even the lower-level important ones, you’re a loser, and we ordinary people spend a lot of time dealing with the collateral damage and fallout that these elite people create.

But God does not show favoritism (Romans 2:11), and since “a man can receive only what is given him from heaven,” (John 3: 27), we shouldn’t expect that our position in life would be so important to God that He chooses to communicate with us, or not, based upon it.

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God has a purpose for all of His children.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I remind you, my ordinary brother and sister, that mega-corporations and conglomerates are religious as well, and Christianity has been infiltrated with big corporations that call themselves Christian, but act oppositionally.

When you find yourself talking to someone in a “calling center,” ask yourself, “What is it about this corporation that makes me think it actually cares about me, as a person? And if I’m just another number to it, why do I trust it so?”

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The Gifts We Give to God — When We Have Nothing Acceptable to Give

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We learn to love, because someone bigger, wiser, and stronger loves us first. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art.

When I was a very young child, I wanted desperately to give my mother a proper present, but being a child, I was unable to buy or make something of the quality that she deserved.

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So I made regular raids into her bedroom, picking up an item that she already owned and loved, and wrapping it for her.

“Here,” I handed her an icon of the virgin Mary that I had pulled off the top of her dresser. “This is for you.”

“How delightful!” each time she accepted the gift as if 1) she didn’t already own it and 2) I hadn’t already given it to her. Some days, I gave her that icon three or four times.

Nothing Acceptable to Give

My own granddaughter, at five, does the same these days, and I regularly receive books, tea cups, and trinkets that I already own. And each time, like my mother before me, I receive them as they are intended: gifts from someone who wants desperately to give something, but has nothing acceptable to give.

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So we are with God: He is the ultimate Gift Giver, the creator of everything including us, and there is nothing that we own or are that He hasn’t already supplied us with. Vaguely aware, like five-year-olds, of the disproportionate nature of our relationship, we seek to give Him something that is worthy of His receiving, only, like five year olds, we are incapable of creating anything of this quality.

“I give Him my love,”  people say. “and my worship, and my faith.”

You Didn’t Make These

That’s all fine and good, but they’re not yours, you know — we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4: 19) and the very faith we need to believe in and trust Him generates from God Himself — John 6: 44 tells us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” and Ephesians 2: 9 reminds, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

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But too frequently we do boast, attributing our feelings of love, the songs we sing, our upright and righteous external activities, as gifts that we generate from within ourselves and graciously offer to His hands. We forget that any mercy, any grace, any kindness or compassion or form of righteousness that we exhibit, are essentially items on God’s dresser that we pull off and wrap.

What do we give the Person who made everything, including our lives and our souls? Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

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In John 14: 23, Jesus tells us, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Because God lives within us, we tell ourselves that we should be good, always, and if we’re not, then we’re not real Christians somehow.

But Galatians 5: 7 reminds us that “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature, They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Saved, but Sinners

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We are saved, but we must not forget that we are saved sinners, and as long as we live on this earth, we will battle with our flesh. Part of this battle means that we won’t always feel worshipful, grateful, patient, and trustful of God’s compassion and love in our lives. There will be a day when we long for and ache for something so badly, so achingly, so strongly — and God remains silent — that we lash out in anger and frustration.

And then immediately chastise ourselves because we’re not supposed to feel like that.

This happened to me. I had been in a state of prayer, for a long long time, for something — a wild irrational dream that only God could put in my heart — but which He did not choose to fulfill, or take away. Standing at the edge of the beach, with the Red Sea in front of me and Pharoah’s troops behind, I gave Him the only thing I had left within me to give:

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I gave Him my frustration, my anger, my hurt, my pain, my envy, my malice, my bitterness, my total and absolute distrust in His word and His nature, and I dumped it all at His feet. It was a pathetic, ugly offering, but as far as anything I could generate or make, all on my own, it was all I had. I emptied myself of myself, and asked Him to fill me with Him.

It’s in the Bible as Well as in Our Hearts

If you can’t do this, if you can’t admit that these feelings abide deep, deep within you, then be Scriptural and just read God a verse:

“Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10: 1)

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“Why have you forgotten me?” (Psalm 42: 9)

“Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (Jeremiah 15: 18)

These thoughts, deep in our hearts, are no surprise to God — but until we allow Him to show them to us, we will mistakenly think that we do not have them. And we will continue to pluck gifts off His dresser, wrap them up in our own paper, and offer them back to Him, as if we had actually created them ourselves.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Just today, I read a blog by a Christian castigating herself because she was impatient in her waiting, and she wasn’t rejoicing and singing through the long, long process of nothing-really-happening that she was going through.

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Waiting is hard enough. Why make it worse by trying to be someone we are not, and insisting that we intrinsically possess attributes that only God can give us, and this only through our submitting to His Son?

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