Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Despicable You? No, Not True.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Quiet, thoughtful, meditative — those are Mary qualities, we say. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Are you a Mary? Or a Martha?

Actually, it’s a dumb question, especially if you’re male, but if you’re female and you’re in an emotionally charged women’s Bible study focusing on your inhibitions and failures, doubts, anxieties, insecurities, and foibles, you might have to answer this question in a group.

If you don’t want to, that’s fine with me. Personally, I’m not a Mary or a Martha, I’m a Carolyn — a very specific Carolyn — and I really don’t like being categorized or compartmentalized or slotted into little holes. These means that I don’t fit well in groups, but you knew that anyway.

Mary and Martha

In  the Bible, Mary and Martha were two sisters who were noted for 1) being very different from one another and 2) living with their brother Lazarus, who spent a few days in a tomb, dead, before he was called back to life by Jesus.  Jesus spent a significant amount of time with the family, and one gets the idea that they were dear friends.

In this article, we’re going to talk about point number 1 — the differences between Mary and Martha — and what that means for you. Because these two women were, well, women, they are frequently trotted out to half the population of the planet as object lessons, and the object of the lesson is this:

In Luke 10: 38-42, we are told that Martha invited Jesus and His disciples into her home, and while she was busy bustling about doing . . . bustling-about things, her sister Mary was decidedly not helping, because she was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening.

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparation that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!'”

Martha Has a Point, You Know

Now as the mother of a decent-sized brood, I’m fully in agreement with Martha, and I always thought that Mary could have gotten off her little patootie and helped, that is, if anyone were interested in eating, but Jesus replied:

“‘Martha, Martha . . . you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'”

The same person who can be quiet and meditative one moment, can be outspoken and expressive — Martha-esque — the next. Aphrodite, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I’m glad that they were ordering take-out.

And yes, I do know that the point driven in is that we need to slow down, quit fussing, don’t stress, and focus on Jesus, not the exigencies of life, but I also know this:

Mary is not “better” than Martha, and if you have a tendency to look, and act, like Martha, you are not “inferior” to the Mary’s in your life. John 11: 3, which records the raising of Lazarus, says,

“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

What’s most striking about this verse is that Mary isn’t even named, but Martha is. This doesn’t at all mean that Jesus discounts the worth of Mary, but it does imply something about Martha’s worth in Jesus’ eyes:

Jesus. Loved. Martha.

With all her anxiety, fussing, bustling, and distraction: Jesus. Loved. Martha.

“Where WERE You?”

Subsequent verses to this story show Martha heading out to meet Jesus directly (while Mary stayed at home), and telling Him,

“If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11: 21)

Eleven verses later, Mary says exactly the same thing.

When we get down to what really matters — losing a dearly beloved person in life — the two sisters were in complete agreement: they hurt, and they wondered why the One Person who could have prevented the whole thing, didn’t.

Are you Mary — sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening? Or are you Martha — striding out to meet Him, blurting out, “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask,” (John 11: 22), a statement of faith that is as profound and wise as Mary’s attitude of listening and learning.

You’re not Mary, and you’re not Martha, my friend — you’re you, a complex soup of emotions, strengths, and weaknesses. God knows your name, He knows what makes you tick, and He. Loves. You.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I want you, my friend, to grow closer and closer to the real Christ, not the substitute that we frequently put up with, simply because that’s what we’re taught. He’s real, He’s caring, He’s compassionate, and He won’t consign you to hell if you swear at the cat. He knows you mess up — that’s why you need Him so much.

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The Work You Do for God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The work you do for God will be uniquely suited to your gifts, abilities, and temperament. The Trainmaster, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

You don’t have to be a Christian for very long before you start hearing the word “personal ministry,” as in, your personal ministry. You’re supposed to have one, you know.

Now there’s nothing wrong with this concept; we all want to be useful, and Ephesians 2:10 assures us that,

“. . . we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ordinary People

As a singularly unassuming person who doesn’t promote a stir when I walk into the room, it’s nice to know that I have a reason for being here, a purpose to my existence, and the eye of the Almighty on me as I fumble through the day. In a world that extols celebrities in Every Single Solitary Arena of our Existence, I find comfort in knowing that I don’t have to be famous to be meaningful, Tweet-worthy to be relevant, important — in the world’s eyes — to be important in God’s.

Now among Christians, this shouldn’t be an issue, because we follow the Man who said:

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.

“Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever want to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10: 42-44)

Finding Your Ministry

The problem arises when we send people to 1 Corinthians 12, or Romans 12: 3-8, and tell them to look for their personal ministry there, conveniently skipping past Romans verse 3,

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you,”

and focusing on the gifts:

Prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, and showing mercy.

Human nature sifts through this list and picks out the “best” ones: Prophesying (which is a difficult one to fake, because if you’re not accurate, you’re not a prophet, but this doesn’t stop people from putting themselves on pedestals), teaching, and leading — the three gifts that have the potential to extol and enrich far more than serving (how humble, and humiliating), encouraging (the leaders, naturally), contributing (this one’s universal — all sheep are expected to offer their wool to the self-appointed shepherd of their flock), and showing mercy.

Way Too Many Leaders — in the Way

If I sound cynical, it’s because I see a lot of people announcing that they are leaders and teachers with a corresponding unwillingness to listen to the people “under” them, and a pronounced lack of skill in operating as a servant, or slave to all. “All of the leadership positions in this community are taken,” the rest of the sheep are told, “but there are many openings for serving and giving. This is where your ministry lies.”

Experienced gardeners know that even dandelions have a purpose, driving their roots down into clay soil and aerating the ground. Dandelions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I know a young adult who, in younger years, was forcibly placed in foster care, and no authoritarian figure, theoretically set there for the child’s benefit, listened to what the child said. Instead, this person was told,

“You need to respect the leaders and authorities in your life.”

“I was taught to respect people in authority,” the child retorted, “but I was also taught to determine whether or not they deserved to be there. You don’t. You need to earn respect before you demand it.”

Wise words from a tween. It’s along the lines of not thinking of yourself more than you ought, a pitfall for all of us.

The Work We Do for God

So what is your work for God? Most of us can readily identify our inability to prophesy, work miracles, heal the sick, speak — authentically — in tongues. Apostle positions are rare, and they appear to have been taken up by a finite number of qualified persons no longer with us. So the more confident, and blatant, announce that they are teachers or administrators, whether or not they actually are. It’s not so much whether they are qualified as that they are assertive, and they remain where they are because we allow them to do so.

But there is one thing that every single believer can, and should do, because Jesus Himself called us to it:

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6: 29)

Believing Jesus, trusting His words, relying upon His goodness, accepting His mercy, resting in His arms — these are not easy things to do, and anyone who blithely announces that they are, isn’t being particularly honest, with himself or others.

Stop worrying about your “personal ministry.” Quit agonizing over which gifts are yours. God has serious work for you to do — believing in the One He sent — and in the process of learning how to do it, you will minister to others richly, aptly, generously, and well.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to think twice where they give their allegiance, and make sure that their primary allegiance is always given first, foremost, and exclusively to Christ.

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5 “Sins” That Aren’t Sins

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Humans have a lamentable tendency of taking a simple concept, like Grace, and making it convoluted and burdensome. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Christians frequently talk about grace, love, acceptance, and freedom, and indeed, these attributes are abundantly available to the person who follows Christ.

Unfortunately, however, within Christian group settings (“community” is the latest buzzword), rules abound, all the more insidious because they are never identified as rules. A believer just gets this idea, sort of, that he doesn’t measure up, that Jesus is displeased with her, and they’re on God’s disciplinary list.

If you’ve felt this way, relax, rest, and stop listening to the murmurs in the room. There really is grace, love, acceptance, and freedom in Christ, and if you want to find it, start by crossing these five psuedo-sins off your list:

The Five Pseudo Sins

1) Skipping church. There is no commandment that we must attend weekly — or multiple-times weekly — meetings, although many people like to quote Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.”

Arguably, the highly controlled, regimented functions that many people endure on Sunday mornings bear little resemblance to the early Christians meeting in the catacombs of Rome, and increasingly, more and more people are wondering why they attend what they do.

Even if you do enjoy your church experience (and through the years, we have found quirky, fun enclaves of people who give meaning to the words, “meet together”), you are not sinning if you opt to sleep in, partake of a leisurely breakfast, swing in the hammock, close your eyes, and pray.

The bonus is, if there are other people in your home, you are “meeting together” with them, something you may not do if your day is filled with song service practice, leadership meetings, small group encounters, and visitations.

Playing Truant?

2) Not participating in Sunday School. Sunday School, which in some circles is more compulsory than church attendance, began in the late 18th century as a literal school for working class children, who during the Industrial Revolution worked 12-hour days Monday through Saturday, and thereby had no opportunity to learn to read, write, or educate themselves beyond serfdom.

This worthy endeavor morphed into what we experience today, a segregation of ages and demographics — young marrieds here, 6th graders there, retired persons in the front foyer, children in the basement — that adds another hour of community obligation to the day of rest.

If you like it, and you’re learning from Sunday School, then participate with joy. If you’re not interested, then don’t feel like a pariah.

Not all beautiful days are sunny, and not all truth is cloaked in positive terms. Autumn Sail, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

3) Thinking, or speaking, a negative thought. Scripture is filled with negative statements: “The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6: 23); “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” (Matthew 10: 35); “In this world you will have trouble,” (John 16. 33).

Just because a statement, or a thought, is negative does not mean that it is bad, and negative or positive statements — in and of themselves — do not have an innate power to influence outcomes. Believing that they do is a cornerstone of occult thought, teaching that esoteric symbolism, numerology, and energy auras are given a power that belongs to God alone.

Pressure from Leadership

4) Just saying, “No.” There are a lot of great ministries out there, but that does not mean that you are obligated to participate in them. Saying no is especially difficult when a pastor or church leader asks you to say yes, because there is the added invocation to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority,” (Hebrews 13: 17), a verse that is trotted out as regularly as the “forsake not assembling” command.

But Bible verses are not meant to be slung about like arrows, manipulating people into doing what they do not want to do, and the same Book includes the verse, “We must obey God rather than men,” (Acts 5: 29).

You have specific gifts and passions, along with limitations on your time, energy, and financial resources: obey God, rather than men, in how you will use them.

5) Disagreeing with your pastor (or other leader): the Bereans of the Apostle Paul’s day were considered of “more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17: 11)

Paul was self-confident enough in himself and in Christ to be unoffended by this practice, and the leaders in your church should be as well. If a lesson or lecture seems specious or unsound (the semi-annual “good stewards should tithe thusly” sermons come to mind), then get out that Bible and start reading.

Better yet, make sure that you’re reading Scripture — at home and on your own — on a regular basis so that by holding to His teaching, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8: 31).

Grace, love, acceptance, and freedom are more than words or idle promises: they are truths that we can experience in our Christian walk. Let’s start taking them seriously.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage believers and seekers to demand the real thing, not substitutes. Too often, however, the substitutes are cloaked in a manner that seems more intellectual, “spiritual,” or cool, and we can waste a lot of time on man made products, as opposed to God’s true grace.

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The Confident Christian, and Why He’s So Dangerous

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Parenting is one of the strongest ways to gain confidence, because you protect someone who needs you and depends upon you. All mothers and fathers are put in the position of leadership. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART.

When I was a young woman and a new Christian, I used to swoon in the presence of the Confident Christian Male. I’m sure you’ve met these Alpha Omega types: they command a room as soon as they effect their entrance, and declare wisdom in measured, even tones.

Fearless and self-assured, they pronounce judgment upon everything from the proper way to pray to sound business acumen, and after five minutes in their presence, you’re convinced that you need only do what they do and obey what they say, and you will succeed in life.

Frequently, they wind up — or rather, put themselves in — positions of leadership, where numbers of people fall under their spell. I am happy to say that I am no longer one of these people — I don’t know, maybe it’s that post-age-40 female thing, when we realize we know more than we think we do, but I started looking at what people say, versus how they live, and I began to be unimpressed. (Look up the traditional definition for “confidence man,” sometime.)

I’ve Met This Person, Before

After years of dealing with these people, a general conspectus emerges: Phenomenal Spiritual Business Man who does everything from provide financial consulting services to write children’s books (EVERYONE writes children’s books, from Rush Limbaugh on down; do we seriously think that children have no literary standards?). He has outwardly obedient kids and a docile wife, frequently “serves” as an elder or senior deacon in a church, and when I am unfortunate enough to have to do business with him, he is convinced that the sheer magnetism of his voice is enough to secure my compliance. I’m just a little lady, after all, and given that I’m a Christian little lady, then it follows without question that I will follow him without thought.

On a larger scale, he hosts a television or radio show, “comments” on the news, conducts seminars, or writes books that we are all instructed to read.

He is a leader — dynamic, charismatic, sanguine, and bold — and the sheer positiveness of his message is the reason why we believe it. Humans crave security, and when another human promises it — through the seductive forcefulness of his words — we fall into line, behind him.

Confidence versus Humility

But is this wise?

And does confidence necessarily mean godliness? Or aptitude?

I think not.

One of the greatest human leaders of all time was Moses, who is described in Numbers 12: 3 as ” . . . a very humble man, more humble than anyone on the face of the earth.” So unwilling was he to put himself forward that he argued five times with God about taking a leadership role that the average Prosperity Preacher would consider beneath his skills, with a final request of,

It wasn’t Moses’ confidence that parted the Red Sea, but God’s might. Whitewater, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”

But God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1: 27), something we might remember when Confidence Man prods us into the corner and intimidates us to acquiesce, because he is big, strong, presumptuous, and right.

Yes, I know — you, and I, are small, weak, vacillating, unsure of ourselves, not particularly wealthy, and singularly unimportant.

Jesus: Meek, and a Leader

This might be a good time to remember that Jesus in Matthew 11: 29 describes Himself as “gentle and humble in heart,” and His Beatitudes of Matthew 5 list out attributes — which Christ considers well worth desiring — that are the total opposite of what we learn in Personal Development Seminars.

When the Bible talks about confidence, it doesn’t position the word “self” in the front:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us,” (1 John 5: 14)

or

“(I am) confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philipppians 1: 6)

If you are unsure of yourself, that’s okay — I’d be unsure of yourself, too. I know I’m unsure of myself. But the one Person who’s worth being sure of — because He’s perfect, and strong, and wise, and compassionate, and powerful — is Jesus Christ, and He tells us this:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father.” (Matthew 11: 27) That’s a pretty sound recommendation.

If you’re going to worship anyone, make sure it’s someone worth worshiping, and the only one who fits that description is Christ. He’s worthy of your worship, and He’s worthy of your trust: don’t give it to anyone else.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I see two kinds of Christians — those who follow Christ, read His words, and listen for His voice — and those who depend upon others to tell them what to do and how to think.

Do, do, do strive to be the first type of Christian.

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