Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Feeling Abandoned?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sometimes, it feels as if we are in an isolated place, all by ourselves. Stonework, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Let’s face it. Most of us wandering around on the planet today have not seen Jesus in person, nor have we audibly heard his voice, emanating from the sky or from the back of the laundry room.

The vast majority of Christians throughout history belongs to a blessed group of those “who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29), and while blessings are nice, when you’re in the midst of fumbling your way through life’s daily challenges and pain, it’s hard to fully comprehend that you’re not doing this all by yourself.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Encouragement at 2 o’clock in the Morning

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who has committed that verse to memory, only I’ve shortened it, mentally to, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” which is much easier to repeat, as a mantra, at 2 o’clock in the morning.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you,” Jesus promised his disciples, and, by extension, the rest of us. These are comforting words indeed, but in a visually stimulated society, sometimes words aren’t enough, and the more difficult life gets, the more we ache for something more tangible onto which to hold.

Jesus understands this — that’s one reason He told so many stories, because His listeners understood about sheep, and olive trees, and grapevines, and goats. Nowadays, however,  sheep aren’t a part of many of our lives, and sometimes, as we meditate, it’s helpful to mentally modify the stories a bit, into something that we can comprehend.

Babes on the Beach

As a child of God, you never walk on the beach by yourself. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I did this last month when we took our four-year-old granddaughter to the beach for the first time. Four of us went in all — Small Person, The Norwegian Artist, our Tired of Being Youngest, and myself — and I was immediately struck by a few things:

1) At no time, EVER, was Small Person left alone — anywhere. In the car, on the road, in the lodging unit, at the beach itself: at least one adult was always there, watching. We had no intention of any sort to leave her or forsake her.

2) We always knew where Small Person was. On the latter part of the visit, she was allowed to walk from the lodging unit to the fence boundary, 25 feet away. Asserting her independence, sometimes she walked briefly out of our immediate sight, but she never actually was.  (“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father . . . So don’t be afraid: you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29, 31)

3) The only reason Small Person was accorded the independence to walk to the fence boundary, unaccompanied, is because she had proven that she would not do random, stupid things, like run off. In actuality, she did not want to be alone out there — in the yard, by the fence, and most especially on the beach itself. Although as she became more confident she didn’t need to hold the Norwegian Artist’s hand at all times, she wasn’t going anywhere without him.

Learning from Children

There is a reason Christ encourages us to become as little children – “He called a little child and had him stand among them, And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 2-4)

We have trouble with that humble part, because it sounds too much like “humiliate.” But when we humble ourselves, like children, before God, we acknowledge that the beach is a big, scary place, and we are too small, young, vulnerable, and defenseless to be on it by ourselves.

And we never are. You may feel alone and abandoned right now, my friend, but I assure you — you are NEVER on that beach by yourself.

Thank you for reading me, and please consider subscribing to Commonsense Christianity by using the Subscribe to Commonsense button in the top right menu. I post three times a week.

Posts of a similar nature to this one include

King Kong God

Don’t Be Afraid of What You See

Praying: How Specific Must We Be?

 

 

 

Sham Christians: Don’t Be Fooled by Them

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There is a huge difference between a real flower and a silk one, even though they may look very, very similar. Purple Iris, original watercolor by Steve Henderson.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us, but just because somebody announces that he is a Christian, doesn’t mean that he’s telling the truth.

And yet, this maxim is obviously not getting through to the general Christian populace, because there are a lot of people out there loudly announcing their Christianity, making a bit of money along the way as they do it, and not being challenged because there are wormy apples growing on what they assure us is a healthy, vibrant peach tree.

“Watch out for false prophets,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:15 – 17:

“They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”

Even if you’re an extremely urban person who thinks that fruit somehow magically appears in packaged, roll-up form, Jesus’ analogy is one that can save us a lot of angst, and money, by keeping our debit card in our wallets before we toss funds at people who say they are doing Christ’s work, but really aren’t.

Follow the Money

And come to think of it, money is one of the major elements to keep in mind when you start questioning the spiritual validity of a person’s message. Recently, a friend of mine shared about a new Exciting Christian Person she had discovered, who had this Exciting Christian Message.

From what I could tell, the central message of the Exciting Christian Person was multifold:

1) We should love and embrace ourselves.

2) We can get anything we want or need through the Power of Christ.

3) Most of us don’t know how to tap into this power.

4) By purchasing the Exciting Christian Person’s books and other resources, we can discover how to tap into this power.

Ask Yourself Questions

Is God glorified? That’s the primary question when you determine the motives of others. Opalescent Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Now when I evaluate a purported Christian’s message, I run it through this major filter:

Is God glorified? because if you read the Bible on even an itinerant basis, you quickly grasp that God is NOT big on glory being given to anyone else but Him. So with this in mind, let’s look at sentences 1 – 4, above:

1) While self-acceptance is an issue in this culture, it is not one of the major, or even minor, commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” Jesus says in Matthew 22: 37. “This is the first and greatest commandment.”

I don’t mean to be a spoiler here or anything, but the second greatest commandment is not, “Focus on loving yourself.” (Accepting ourselves, by the way, is important; it’s just not achieved by placing ourselves first.)

2) God is our Father, not Big Daddy. Yes, there are verses about answers to prayer; there are also verses about hardship and pain. They go together somehow.

There Are No Secrets

3) “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7: 7) Oh, and wait. God is not obligated to answer our demands in our time frame and expectation level, and anybody who tells you that he knows how to “get” or “make” God do what He’s told, isn’t paying attention to the stories of Abraham, or Job, or Moses. Jesus Himself had a pretty major prayer in Gethsemane – “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me,” which wasn’t complete without the rest of the sentence, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

There is no “secret” way to pray to ensure that you achieve wealth, fame, power, healing, or material blessings.

4) While it’s fine to sell books and resources, when the message of those resources is, “You need my unique, specialized knowledge to get ahead,” walk away, brew a pot of tea, and sit with the kitty for awhile. She has more spiritual insight for you than this person does.

If you’re going to spend time, and possibly money, following a person who purports to speak for Christ, then make sure that their words do, indeed, mirror those of Jesus, who came down from heaven, not to do His own will, but the will of His Father.

Thank you for joining me on Commonsense Christianity, and please feel free to leave a comment — I love hearing from you. I post articles three times a week, during the week, and I invite you to subscribe to Commonsense Christianity on the top right of the menu bar.

Posts related to this article are

Praying: How Specific Must We Be?

Christian Leadership and Ordinary People

 

 

Is Your Job Meaningless?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Now this guy, he’s got a one-of-a-kind job. These Gifts Are Better Than Toys by Steve Henderson.

In this technological age, one of the means of entertaining ourselves is typing random sentences into search engines and seeing what comes up. So the Norwegian Artist, in a inexplicable fit of, well, even he can’t explain why he did this, typed,

“Meaningful Jobs.”

Take the Norwegian’s advice and don’t bother. Forbes Magazine, which very few of us consult to meet the deeper emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives, posted a list of 25 Meaningful Jobs That Pay Well, the first five of which were in the medical field, and — surprise surprise! — these positions paid REALLY well.

When your mom told you to become a Neurosurgeon or Cardiothoracic Surgeon, she was reading Forbes.

What Do These People Do, Anyway?

Of course, if you don’t want to go into the medical field, you can be number 6, a Supervisory Special Agent. One hundred percent of the people in this field surveyed said that the work was meaningful, and considering that the median pay is $129,000 to do . . . what? their satisfaction is understandable.

Oh, and number 7 — a Chief Executive Officer, median pay $155,500, satisfaction rate 82 percent. For some reason, I’ve never associated the word “meaningful” with the term CEO.

“Lucrative,” yes.

The Huffington Post, another entity I never consult for, well, meaningful content, listed the 10 Least Meaningful Jobs: Payscale, beginning the article with,

“Want to make the world a better place? You may want to consider changing jobs.”

It made me wonder — if a gas station attendant (the Post’s Number One Least Meaningful Job) paid what a Supervisory Special Agent position did, would it all of a sudden be meaningful?

Does Money Make Meaning?

Some of the most meaningful things we do, don’t pay. Afternoon Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

In other words, what makes a job meaningful — how much money it generates, or how much it helps people?

Most people work because we have to — there’s food, shelter, clothing, taxes, fees, insurance payments, utilities — although the latter four are generally paid before we can address the first three, and YES, we would like to be recompensed well for what we do.

But it’s important to recognize two things about our jobs:

1) How much we’re paid is not a reflection upon how meaningful the job is. Think about your average homemaker — based upon her payscale, she’s useless, which, come to think of it, is how contemporary society views her.

2) Any honest work, done well, is meaningful. Our grandparents, who lived through the Great Depression, knew this — that’s why they kept repeating to their grandkids, “Don’t knock it. It’s a job, kid, and it keeps you off the streets.”

A Surfeit of Neurosurgeons

There are only so many neurosurgeons a society can absorb, and while it’s impressive to say that you’re the Director of Compensation and Benefits (median pay, $122,000, satisfaction rate 64 percent), you’re far more likely to be the person arguing with this guy about your compensation and benefits package. In other words, many people are worker bees.

Jesus was a carpenter. Peter and John were fisherman. Matthew was a tax collector, which as far as pay and benefits go, would make Forbes’ List of the first century and be described as meaningful.

But what makes your job — and your entire life, actually — meaningful is not how much you’re paid, or even what you do. It’s that you’re there, and as a child of God, you walk with Christ as your guide and you do the work — whatever work — that is set before you each day. If you don’t like what you do — and there are a lot of really unlikable jobs out there — talk to Him about it, but don’t put yourself down as useless to humanity because you’re not a neurosurgeon.

Your Job Is, and You Are, Meaningful

You may bag groceries, run a coffee shop, drive a bus, drill teeth, drill oil wells, design clothes, paint artwork, teach children, wait tables, deliver mail, trade stocks — whatever it is, and whatever its level of prestige (or perceived lack of prestige), the meaningfulness of what you do depends upon how you do it: honestly, fairly, honorably, and taking advantage of every opportunity you have to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Smile at a co-worker. Speak gently to a confused victim of dementia. Bite back a snippy retort at someone who is rude to you (service workers do this all the time; the CEOs who run their companies don’t have to). Work for Christ as your employer in whatever capacity you are in right now, and don’t put yourself down because what you do isn’t “meaningful.”

As a Child of God, every breath you take is meaningful.

 

 

 

 

King Kong God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Anne and Kong at the top of the Empire State Building, in Peter Jackson’s 2005 movie, King Kong.

In a desperate foray to find something well made and worth watching, we have been revisiting movies of yesteryear, which in today’s society mean anything more than seven years old.

Recently, we immersed ourselves in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong, and when it comes to escapism, you can’t do much better than this: there are oversized creepy insects, ravenous dinosaurs, raging sea storms, and two sweet romances: one between the handsome male and the brave yet quavering female, the second between the quavering female and a giant ape.

It is this latter romance that brings to mind my relationship with God — not because He is a massive monkey and we, being made in His image, descended from Simian ancestors (one of these days I’ll open the floodgates and talk about why the Theory of Evolution and the Truth of Christianity don’t mix, mesh, or match), but because he is big and strong and scary yet gentle, and his behavior toward Ann, the quavering female, mirrors something that we look for in our relationship with God.

Kong Falls in Love

While this relationship didn’t start out magnificently — Kong is ready to eat Ann, after all — things change, and the behemoth of Skull Island falls for the living Barbie doll. In a series of classic Jackson episodes of dinosaurs attacking Ann, Kong holds her firmly in his one paw while he fends off primeval reptiles with the other.

Standard romances involve two humans of separate genders, which does eventually happen in King Kong. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Ann screams well, which is a natural reaction to being whiplashed back and forth while your protector is busy protecting you, but at all points she is safe because, despite looking as dumb as my farm cat, Eddie the Thug, Kong cradles Ann with the one hand while he fights with the other.

Frankly, on this atrocious island filled with unfriendly natives, massive crustacean insects, and squashy wet life-eating marsh plants, Ann isn’t safer anyplace else other than in Kong’s hands. Even the human romantic hero played by Adrian Brody, who sends all of my female progeny into swoons, can’t do as well as the big, brown, hairy guy who keeps beating his chest.

Safe and Secure in a Scary Place

But the big scene, the one that made me stop, mouth agape, and look as dumb as Eddie the Thug myself, was the one on the Empire State Building, in which Kong climbs, again with Ann in his fist, to the top, and they sit there as companionably as one can manage to do 1200 feet above the city streets.

From Ann’s point of view, this would be a remarkably senseless time and place to struggle outside of Kong’s grasp, because the only realistic direction is down — rather quickly — and only by remaining still and calm in Kong’s firm embrace is she really safe from her present circumstances.

Do you see where I’m going here? Obviously, God is not King Kong, but He is big and strong and powerful and able to climb tall buildings with us in His grasp — and He does, throughout our lives, as we find ourselves in really, really frightening situations that we would rather not be in. But we are in them, and it’s wise to remember two things:

We Call Him “King” for a Reason

1) We are not alone at the top of the Empire State Building. Most of us couldn’t manage to get in the position in the first place, and even though for humans it just involves scaling rickety ladders to a narrow shelf, we wouldn’t willingly be there if we had a choice. But we are there.

2) We are in God’s hands, and now is not the right time or place to struggle out of them and go . . . where? Down?

One could argue: I wouldn’t be up here if God/Kong hadn’t brought me, but look at it this way:

1) This isn’t a perfect allegory

and

2) Wherever we are, God is with us, and the top of the Empire State Building is a scary place. But if you have to be there, it’s better to be in the hands of someone who knows how to get up and down, than negotiating the circumstances alone, in your own strength and in a skimpy white dress.

Isn’t it amazing how much truth we can find, when we look, in pop culture?

 

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