Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

When You’re Not as Happy as You Wish You Were

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Joy, peace, contentment — we don’t have to wait until we die and go to heaven before we taste these. Enchantment, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

It’s not wrong, unusual, or evil to want to be happy. If it weren’t such a basic human drive, the pursuit of it wouldn’t have been mentioned as an inalienable right in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

And yes, my Christian friends, I do know that the Declaration of Independence and the Bible are two different publications, and the latter doesn’t specifically mention the pursuit of happiness.

Indeed, if you listened to what some Christians propound, you’d be convinced that the Bible limits itself to discussion on damnation, obedience to authority, and the appalling lack of its readers’ faith. Sometimes I marvel that I ever managed to become a Christian at all.

But we were talking about happiness, which, admittedly, is a difficult thing to attain in a world that does everything to oppose it: loss, separation, anxiety, illness, financial ruin, fear, oppression — this is the norm in which we live, so it’s no wonder that we frequently don’t feel as happy as we could wish.

You Can Freely Ask God for Happiness

But happiness, true happiness, is composed of peace, joy, and contentment, three words that are frequently mentioned in the Bible, and three attributes that we can unapologetically seek from God. Like most things we ask for from God, however, what we eventually get will look different from what we initially want, because His ways really are at variance with, and higher than, ours, and the gifts He gives thereby richer, and deeper than what we expect or can understand.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid,” Jesus tells his disciples (including us) in John 14: 27.

From this passage, we derive two major points:

God’s Peace Looks Different

1) Christ’s peace does not look like the “Peace on earth” message emblazoned across reader boards during the Christmas holidays. In so far as discussing an absence of war, that’s not something we’re going to see on earth before Christ returns, especially as many of the mega-businesses and governments calling for it have no actual desire to see it happen. Profits would go down.

Christ’s peace is inner, and individually experienced. Ultimately, it brings to us respite from fear and anxiety.

God’s Peace Isn’t Do-It-Yourself

2) Christ’s peace is a gift, which means that it is not something we can generate ourselves. Peace, faith, contentment, joy — all of these gifts are just that — gifts, and the only one who can give them to us is the Giver.

You cannot manufacture or create peace. Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas

We can’t create them, manufacture them, or assemble them with or without instructions, but too many Christians go through their entire lives lamenting their lack of faith, peace, contentment, and joy, convinced that they can’t even attract God’s interest unless they have control over these issues.

Even when you explain that these are gifts, insecure Christians insist that they’re not good enough to receive them, and that’s why God is holding back. But if our very salvation was given to us before we deserved it, what makes the rest of the journey any different?

“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,” Paul tells us in Ephesians 2: 8 (by the way, did you notice that the faith doesn’t generate from us?)

Getting What We Deserve?

Within Christian circles, we are quick to note, and remind, that we — and all those nasty pagan reprobates out there — are slimy, creepy, reptilian lizards who deserve the very worst that God can throw at us, but “He is patient . . . not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 9)

If we don’t get the punishment we deserve because God extends His hand of grace to us, then why, after we have grabbed onto that hand, do we expect that we have to please God before He will help us?

If you are unhappy, my friend, the first place you can start is by not vilifying yourself for not being happy enough. While we can grow in contentment by learning to be more thankful than covetous, sometimes life hurts just too much. You would be inhuman if you were not reeling from some of its blows.

Take your bruised and wounded spirit and lay it in God’s hands. His grasp is firm enough to keep your soul from dropping onto the ground, yet gentle enough to not maul, or contuse. Think of a wounded songbird, and how carefully you would cradle it.

“Love (God) is patient, love is kind . . . It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs . . . It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)

Love. Never. Fails.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I have been a Christian for 32 years, spending nearly two-thirds of that time in a complacent fog that enabled me to live each day without really talking to God, listening to God, or believing that He had any impact or interest in my life.

But life intervenes, and pain and fear drove me into the arms that God was always holding out. As I picked up the Bible, and read it for myself without the interpretation and direction from others, I grew closer and closer to God. He was always there, sitting on the sofa right beside me, but I had been facing the other direction. Now, I throw myself in His arms and know that He will catch me. Sometimes I hear His laugh of joy, the same laugh I experience with the family members I adore.

I write to encourage others to aggressively and pertinaciously seek God, because He is very, very willing — and worth — being found.

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(As an aside, all of the fine artwork in my articles is by my Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson, who seeks to capture beauty, truth, peace, and joy in paint. No, he does not paint “Christian Art.” He is a Christian who paints art.)

 

Money, Power, Fame, and Name

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The things that matter, the things that make us brim over with laughter and joy, are ultimately NOT money, power, fame, and name. Brimming Over, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

It is a driving factor of human existence that we crave being loved and valued.

We’ve got one shot through this life, and within the years we have been given, we ache to know that our lives have meaning — to the people around us, and to God.

Some people fulfill this need by building kingdoms on earth for themselves — money, power, fame, and name justify their lives, and whether or not they use these princely gifts is of no import. They are worthwhile, they reason, because They Are. If you put that last part into singular construction, it would say, I AM.

Many Christians, while they recognize that God’s standards are different from man’s, strive to live a dual existence that is dangerously entwined. It looks like this:

“I am a child of God, made in His image, and what I do in His name is important because I am doing it for Him.”

This sentence is right, by the way, and if we stopped here, we’d be just fine. Only we generally don’t stop here. We add,

“The way I know that I am doing God’s will, and justifying my existence, is by the blessings God bestows on me for my obedience. These blessings are money, power, fame, and name.”

New Cars, Big Home, and an 80-inch TV Screen

While they don’t necessarily strive for Oprah-hood, too many Christians rest satisfied that God approves of them because they have a well paying job, a nice home, two new cars, a decent bank account, the ability to send their children to a proper accredited Christian school, and membership at a large, community-approved church.

God’s blessings are tangible, they reason, and those who are struggling, do so because of 1) bad luck, 2) lack of faith, or 3) the lamentable misfortune of being born on the continent of Africa. (One of the most unfortunate aspects I could see about being born is Africa is having to endure endless groups of short-term missions from people convinced that, as an entire continent, the residents do not have enough faith to deserve God’s blessings of three-car garages and motor homes.)

Material Security Does Not Equate to Eternal Life

Some Christians, however — who stand outside the world of material security — perhaps they are enduring long term unemployment, suffering from chronic health problems, dealing with constant physical pain or mental anguish, undergoing agonizing family issues, or even just being aware of an overwhelming sense of their finite, limited ordinariness and general unimportance in the world of men, are dissatisfied with their existence and the difference they make in the world around them, and they cry out to God,

It’s not the size of your home that matters; it’s the interaction you have with the people who live in it. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.,

“I feel so worthless, somehow. If I were truly important to You, if I mattered the way I so long to matter to You, then why am I such a nothing in the world of men?”

That’s a cry deep from the gut, from a child of the King who flounders, frustrated, in the worldly life of a peasant. Deceived by the latent, deep-seated belief that lack of money, power, fame, name and 15 minutes of viral time on YouTube or Facebook is indication of ultimate failure on their part, ordinary Christians judge their value by Man’s standards, twisted with God’s.

Do We Really BELIEVE What We Read in the Bible?

(Interestingly, many people blessed with money, power, fame and name actually do very little with what they’ve been given, proportionally. Jesus noted this in Mark 12: 41-42 when he observed the rich people giving into the temple treasury, and the poor widow who “put in two very small coppery coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.

” . . . Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.’”)

We’re all familiar with this story — but like much of what we read in the Bible, do we really, truly, actively BELIEVE it? Or, more likely, do we long to believe it? Deep down, we are frustrated with the system under which we live, one that judges us, always, on external factors.

God doesn’t play that game.

“Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches,” God says in Jeremiah 9:23-24, “ but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”

Kindness. Justice. Righteousness. When is the last time we’ve asked God for any of these?

This Is What I Do

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. For now, and for as long God wishes me to do so, this is one of the things I do — I write about living as a real Christian in the 21st century, and I encourage those of you who love and follow God to get close to Him and come to awareness of just how very, very precious you are.

THAT’s the message we are to pass on to others, but if we don’t understand it ourselves, what do we say?

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posted by Carolyn Henderson

Reading. No matter where technology takes us, reading still tops the list of good things to do. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Before the world of Facebook, we’d find ourselves at a bridal shower, say, and The Person in Charge of Embarrassing Games generally began with something innocuous, like,

“List your five favorite books about sex,”

or, if this were a church function,

“List your five favorite books,” to which, of course, we would all have to put, “The Holy Bible” as number one. The point is, by sharing our reading tastes (we do still read, don’t we?), we told others about ourselves.

Want to know more about me?

1) Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte

2) The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

3) The Narnia Chronicles, by C. S. Lewis

4) Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis

5) The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

I deliberately omitted The Holy Bible for the same reason I never listed it during the games; I really hate being manipulated. Within 10 minutes of reading my essays, if you haven’t figured out that the Bible means something to me, then I’m befuddling somehow.

C. S. Lewis

Anyway, back to that list — you’ll notice that I list one author, C. S. Lewis, twice. Yes indeed, I admire this man, his words, and his works, especially those on Christianity and our relationship with God.

Lewis’ thoughts, eloquently phrased, shape many of my own — I am who I am not only because of my mother, but because of C. S. Lewis, and while I admire, esteem, and respect this man,

I do not, however, worship him. Nor would he have expected anyone to, not when a frequent sentiment, regularly stated in Mere Christianity, advocates (paraphrased):

“If this analogy doesn’t help you, don’t feel that you have to accept or believe it.”

Modern Messiahs

As beautiful as the creation is, we worship the One who created it, not the creation itself. Last Light in Zion, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Ah, if only more Christians — especially those who read the big-name evangelical authors, follow radio-talk-show “conservative Christian” celebrities, and tune into the Friendly Faces on the suppositionally  “neutral” news stations — would take Lewis’ statements to heart.

Better yet, absorb the message behind the statement: “I speak what I believe, but I am not God. Filter what I say through God’s Truth — which you can find in the Bible on the back bookshelf — and do not unquestionably accept everything I say simply because I am 1) a familiar face, 2) famous, and 3) a self-imposed spokesman for what you say you believe.”

If you’ve read me for awhile, you might have picked up that I’m not big on big media: that ceaseless chatter of voices droning into my ear and telling me what to think, and to think about. The white noise itself is distracting, and shouts over God’s quiet, persistent whisper that has much more to say.

Voices That Distract Us

But too many people — too many Christians — go through their day with these voices interpreting the “news” for them, commentating on whatever current events are chosen for review, urging specific action.

Recently, I saw a clip of one of these Famous Faces, who purportedly gives his listeners (many of them Christian)  tough talk, no punches pulled, expounding upon the value of having micro-chips implanted in our children, so that they can be “safe.”

My first thought was:

“Even the most inert Christian, with very, very little awareness of or familiarity with anything at all in the Bible, might vaguely associate micro-chips with the Mark of the Beast, mentioned in the book of Revelation.”

At the very least, if you don’t want to be considered a religious fanatic nut like me, you might question what implanted micro-chips mean for your child’s sense of privacy — which, in today’s society, is far more at risk than his or her safety.

Listen to God, Not Men

In a perfect world, one in which Christians ask God for guidance, seek His voice in their lives, and knock themselves out to grow in His grace, many listeners would have said,

“Hey! Just what are you advocating? Are you using the trust I have in your name to wear down my defenses about an idea that is highly likely abhorrent to me? What other suggestions are you implanting in my mind?” and ratings would drop.

But in a world where too many Christians spend more time with media than they do talking to and thinking about God, the reaction is more like,

“Hmm. I always thought micro-chips were a potential invasion of my being, my body, my mind, and my privacy. But if Famous Face says it, it MUST be all right.”

People: stop believing everything you hear, and stop slavishly following other human beings — ANY human beings — by unquestionably accepting everything they say.

If you want words to follow, try these:

“I am the Lord your God . . . You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20: 2)

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, and if you like what you read, please consider subscribing (top right, menu bar). You’ll notice that I didn’t use the term “follow me,” because there’s only One Person worth following, and I work for Him.

Ask. Seek. Knock. Agitate. Question. Research. Read. Pray. Speak up.

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The Dissident Christian: Does This Describe You?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We cannot be lights in the world if we allow people’s taunts to dampen our flame. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

It doesn’t take much to be a dissident to today’s society.

All it involves are two things:

1) Asking questions

and

2) Refusing to passively accept everything that we are told.

At an art museum, a dissident viewer is one who asks the guide, “Why, specifically, is this painting so famous and expensive? In all honesty, it does look like something my 8-year-old could do.”

In a university science class, it looks like this, “But professor, Darwin himself admitted that not just one, but many many ‘missing links’ would need to be found to confirm the accuracy of his theory. Given that, in all this time and with all the research put into it, we haven’t found one, what does this mean?”

Around the water cooler: “If Democrats and Republicans are so diametrically and radically different, why does nothing ever really change for the better, regardless of who is in control?”

At church: “I don’t agree with many points on the pastor’s last sermon, which isolated a few verses out of context, and seemed to be pushing me into behaving a certain way. If I choose to give my money to a woman I know whose electricity will be shut off if her bill isn’t paid, as opposed to writing a check to the church this month, am I really sinning?”

Don’t Shut Up

Many times, the response to our asking questions is a variation of,

Our Horizon is as large, or small, as we choose to make it. Think big. On the Horizon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“Shut up! You don’t know the full story, so you have no right to speak,” which totally ignores the fact that you were simply asking a question, not propounding an opinion.

When it comes to religious situations, we’re too full of grace to say, “Shut up,” but the second aspect — that you don’t know what you’re talking about so please leave the thinking up to me — still emerges.

People asking questions are dangerous, because they upset the status quo, and one of the best ways to silence potential troublemakers is to put them on the spot or ridicule them. Since most of us don’t relish looking like fools, this method is remarkably effective in squashing potential opposition.

Yes, We’re “Fools”

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians, spends a significant amount of time comparing foolishness versus wisdom, from the perspective of humanity and that of God, and urges,

“If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise.” (1 Corinthians 3: 18)

Jesus in John 15: 18-19 tells us,

“If the world hates, you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates, you.”

It will mock you, disparage you, discourage you, and ridicule you for the way you live and the questions you ask — and quite unfortunately, the world’s influence is not exempt from religious circles. For this reason, while it is important to interact with other Christians and encourage one another (which many people associate with church attendance), it is equally important to maintain a strong, independent, and private relationship with God.

DIY Christianity

This means that, while a pastor’s sermon or elder’s Sunday school class may provide enlightenment, teaching, and wisdom, it is not infallible, and the ultimate responsibility to read, and understand, God’s Word is yours. This isn’t as frightening as it sounds, because you have three powerful resources to accomplish this task:

1) The Holy Spirit lives within each and every Christian, and this Spirit of Truth “will guide you into all truth.” (1 John 16: 5)

2) You have an innate level of intelligence that enables you to analyze, critique, question, research, and learn.

3) You have a Bible written in the language that you speak. If this were the 13th century, and the only Bible in town were written in Latin, which you don’t read, there would be justification in the accusation that, “You don’t know what this book says.” Do not allow this sentence to be replaced by, “You don’t have seminary training or a PhD in theology, so you really don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Christians: we’re supposed to be salt. Salt changes the flavor of the food around it. This means that there’s no way we can jump into the stew without changing the way it tastes.

Ask. Seek. Knock. This command from Matthew 7: 7 isn’t limited to the people at the top of the pyramid. It’s directed to all of us.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity; if you like what you read, I encourage you to subscribe (top right, menu bar).

If you are a Christian, the world needs you, doing whatever it is God asks you to do each day — and you won’t know what work He has for you if you don’t ask Him. You are an important, valued, and precious member of God’s family — regardless of how unimportant you look by conventional human standards. Remember — God thinks differently than we do, and the closer we draw to Him, the more He can teach us to think this way as well.

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