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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Are You Qualified to Study the Bible?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Promenade girl in blue dress with parasol walking in garden oil painting by Steve Henderson

It takes a lot of skill to paint the human figure, and not many artists can actually do it. Some who can, choose to not do it by choice; but many who cannot, use that same statement. Promenade, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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We live in a time and place of people fascinated by degrees, credentials, and man-made accolades, to the point that, when unimaginative employers look for people to fill the cubicles, they are more concerned with a person’s university background than they are with any ability to actually perform the work required.

(As an aside, these same professional job recruiters, who no doubt have degrees in Professional Job Recruiting, creep people’s Facebook and social media accounts, more concerned with how much wine someone drank on Friday night, than that they know the difference between him and me and he and I. So they hire teetotalers who consistently write, “Her and me talked to he and they and said that they’re business model was to unsustainable.”)

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Artists Should Know How to Draw

As you may know when you read my articles and look at the artwork, I am married to a professional fine artist, Steve Henderson. Whether or not you like representational art, you have to admit that the guy knows how to draw a face so that it looks like an actual person, as opposed to an 8-year-old’s interpretation of it. As far as university degrees go, he has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), which on a personal level means that it took years of practice and study to transcend the misinformation and poor teaching he paid so much to experience, and on a professional level that he cannot instruct at the college, university, or even high school level, because he doesn’t have enough education.

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Whether or not he can actually paint, draw, or create a piece of fine art of excellence is not the issue.

The funny part of this is that, in several private workshops Steve has given, more than one of his students has been a university-accredited professor, taking his class because he or she is untrained and unskilled in the artistic discipline. Once Steve was told,

“I’m supposed to teach a watercolor class next semester and I’ve never done watercolor. I hope I learn enough in this workshop to pass it on to the students!”

I’m sure I don’t need to point out the irony of this situation.

The Worship of Degrees

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But this is the world we live in, the world of men who set up systems and require people to fill out forms, and take classes, and endure seminars, and undergo sensitivity training, so that a new generation can get the job and pass on the lack of knowledge that they received themselves. Ultimately, it is not whether or not one can actually perform the work for which one was trained — cut hair, practice medicine, teach art, or know the difference between you’re and your — it’s whether one has the piece of paper saying that one is appropriately licensed to do so.

Lady of the Lake woman in yellow sheer skirt and hat standing by water original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Because humans are not goats, or rock fish, we were born with the ability to think, reason, learn, meditate, pray, and read. Let’s use those skills. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Within conventional, establishment Christianity — the kind overwhelmingly and depressingly practiced in countries like the one in which I was born and live, the United States — we are not immune to this fascination with education, and even the smallest, rural churches point with pride to their Pastor with the PhD, convinced that, because of his advanced seminary education and ability to name drop Greek and Hebrew words, he knows so much more than the rest of them.

(More likely, he knows how to use Strong’s Concordance and a lexicon, resources available to any of the rest of us.)

License to Study?

While we are not required, yet, to undergo licensing to study the Bible for ourselves, the subtle pressure is there among us, as church congregants are firmly encouraged to join small groups, under the shepherding aegis of an approved leader who walks them, step by agonizing step, through workbooks, worksheets, and pop-culture books by pop-culture preachers expostulating about Jesus, the Bible, and the abundant, purposeful, intentional and missional life we are supposed to be living.

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“You’re reading the Bible by yourself, without any commentary or notes at ALL?”

I’m not sure if this is a mortal sin or a venial one, but increasingly, it is something we are not encouraged to do because, you know, if you’re not guided by an expert, you may get something wrong, and that could be very, very scary — maybe even resulting in a generation of Christians believing that, if only they say the right words and tap into an inner power, they can get anything they want.

Dumb Fishermen

At times like this, it’s good to remember that the pillars of our faith, the ones who started the whole Jesus message and died for it, were ordinary people — many of them fishermen — and none of them with PhDs with an emphasis in Biblical counseling or Media Arts and Worship. Despite not having written a doctoral thesis on church growth, they managed to successfully teach others the best news the world has ever had, and the consistent message was not, “Go ye forth and get a degree,” but, “Tell everybody about Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He did.”

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They had what all Christians — regardless of the letters after their name or a certificate attesting that they completed an in-house church leadership seminar — have: the Holy Spirit as our guide and teacher, living within us:

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14: 25)

Take Him at His word, literally. Read the Bible for yourself. Pray — privately — to God. Trust that He will teach you, and stop relying upon any other human being to do your thinking, or live your Christian life, for you.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where my message is consistently that individual Christians stand up tall and think for themselves.

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What Is the Christian Response to the Israel/Hamas Situation?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Autumn Dance oil painting of man and girl in gazebo by lake and Victorian house by Steve Henderson

If you’re a parent, you share more in common with another parent in India, or Israel, or Gaza, than you do with President Obama or former President George W. Bush. Autumn Dance, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART

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When I returned home from work last week, there was a message from the bank on the answering machine:

“Please give us a call at your earliest convenience.”

That was it, and because of all the myriad of privacy laws protecting me from getting additional information — readily available to every government agency on the planet — about my financial affairs, I had no idea why the bank wanted to talk to me, but I managed to mentally run through a number of scenarios, none of which were good.

Quite fortunately, when I called the next day and was able to get a real human, I found out that the call concerned a nominal question about absolutely nothing.

Incomplete Information

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Operating on limited and incomplete information, I had spent fruitless time building scenarios that had nothing to do with reality.

In many ways, this is how we, the ordinary people, function with the news: funneled through corporate entities (do you know that 6 corporations control 90 percent of the media in America?) and politicians (they hold press conferences; reporters write down what they say; we read it in the newspaper — with the end result that what we consider news is often no more than a re-write of a government press release), we operate on limited information, liberally sprinkled with disinformation and misinformation.

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(And by the way, when I use the word “liberally,” I’m embracing conservatives, too, because the essential result of the “liberals” versus “conservative” debate is that we small people argue with one another, as opposed to noticing that both current U.S. President Obama and former U.S. President George W. Bush enjoy a similar lifestyle that is far beyond the reach of most of us. What they have in common — money, power, media coverage, a literal physical distance from the electorate and custom fitted suits — binds them closer to one another than they are to any of the rest of us. Do you think that you will ever run into either of these two at Wal-Mart and be able to actually talk to them?)

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Israel and Gaza

Let’s take an issue that is going on now, has been going on a long time prior, and will fill talk shows for years hence  — the Israeli/Hamas situation. Now most Christians know how they are supposed to think about this, simply because Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity are generous in analyzing the limited information citizen viewers are given, interpreting it, and shepherding followers in how and what to think. You’re free to disagree, because this is the America these commentators know and love, but do be aware that you will be considered “kind of dumb and ignorant.” That’s okay — just keep buying the books; that’s the main function of your purpose-driven life.

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The New Hat 1940s nostalgia woman in front of old fashioned dresser mirror oil painting by Steve Henderson

We get up, we work, we take care of our families. Ordinary people, everywhere, want the right to live ordinary lives. The New Hat, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Now while there are Christians who listen to the other side — NPR and CNN — and are similarly guided by “opposite” analysis and directed reasoning — too many evangelical Christians associate Jesus with Republicans with conservative with Fox News, and whatever the sheep think about Israel, or any issue of the day, is lamentably reminiscent of the voice of a few influential, raucous, belligerent men. What comes out is this:

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Simple and Simplistic

1) Israel is never the aggressor.

2) Palestine is never on the defense.

3) Children and non-military personnel (i.e., women and old people) may die in Palestine, but Israel is never the aggressor.

4) If you speak out against Israel, ever, you are anti-Semitic and you hate all Jews.

John the Baptist was a Jew, and this is what he said to the Jewish leaders, coming out to be baptized by him:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matthew 3: 7-8)

Anti Semitic Hate Speech?

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Jesus, another famous Jew, said — again to the leaders — “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23: 27-28)

If either man were to speak so on alternative media these days, he would be labeled anti-Semitic, a purveyor of hate speech, not to mention “kind of dumb and ignorant.”

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No war is one-sided, and no news commentator, or TV station, should be defining our beliefs about the world around us. That they are so successful at doing so is testament to our willingness to be controlled by the voices of men.

But this is what Romans 1: 29-30 tells us about the world — and words — of men:

“They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers (that’s interesting), God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful.; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”

That’s what we are. That’s why there are wars. And that’s why there are people telling us how to think about those wars — their way, one way, with no questions asked.

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How should Christians respond to the Israeli/Hamas situation? With prayer, discernment, and a healthy reluctance to be told what to think.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where my consistent message is this:

1) Think for yourself

2) Recognize that you operate on limited information, but God does not

3) In light of items 1 and 2, seek truth in Scripture and prayer.

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Should You Question Authority?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Contemplation, oil painting of girl thinking in autumn by Steve Henderson

The more we think, the less readily we believe what we are told. So it is in the best interest of people who want to control us, to frustrate us from thinking. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed, open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Should you question authority?

You bet.

Generally I avoid words like “should,” “ought,” and “must,” because they are frequently misused to manipulate people into doing things that they don’t want to do, as in,

“You should go to Sunday School.”

“You ought to tithe regularly to your local church.”

“You mustn’t question everything you’re told or people will think that you’re difficult.”

But if a person is questioning human authority in light of divine teaching — which all free-thinking people should, should do —  these three dictates won’t influence him, because he’ll stop, consider, and, in the case of a serious, thinking Christian, crack open his Bible and research:

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God’s Word, not Man’s

“Is Sunday School even mentioned in Scripture?”

“Isn’t tithing an Old Testament decree?”

“The Bereans of the New Testament — they checked out everything the Apostle Paul said. If they checked out the Apostle Paul, what’s to stop me from questioning the words of my pastor? or Joel Osteen? or Dave Ramsey? or Joyce Meyers, James Dobson, Bev Moore, Rick Warren, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson, Billy Graham or Carolyn Henderson?”

(I Declare: I was in the same sentence with famous and notable Christian celebrities!)

Dependent Christians

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Many Christians are a mass of conflicting notions, convinced that they are valiantly and independently “living for the Lord” at the same time that they worship all things military (“Yes, Sir!” “No, Ma’am!” — a lifestyle not notably conducive to the freedom of thought and existence that it purports to protect); are convinced that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles when a quick gander through its capitol city shows artwork mighty short on Jesus Christ but excessively tipped toward gods and goddesses that were worshiped when the Apostle Paul dialogued with the Athenians; and unquestioningly accept whatever their church board of elders — with the pastor as its head — hands down as law.

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In Matthew 20: 25 -29 Jesus tells his disciples:

“You know that the 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 wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I’ve never been in a mega church, but I’ve always wondered —

How much are the leaders of these churches paid?

And how, specifically, do they serve — humbly — the people who write the checks?

Yes, Sir. No, Ma’am.

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In our church-attending days, we interacted with a number of good, Christian families who were extremely inflexible in the raising of their children: a critical indication of successful parenting was in how readily the progeny obeyed everything they were told to do — with no questions, comments, or editorial opinion allowed.

Bold Innocence oil painting of child standing on ocean beach at sunset by Steve Henderson

When we gently and wisely teach our children independence, we create a future of thinking, confident adults — the kind a truly free country needs. Bold Innocence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas. iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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At some time, however, children turn 18 and are loosed onto the world, at which point one wonders, “How will these children ever say ‘no’ to someone in authority, because they have absolutely no experience of doing so?”

Well, maybe that’s why we have so many submissive Christians, who not only accept everything they are taught about Jesus (“He has a PLAN for your life to be prosperous!” “You show your love for Jesus by giving time and money to His church!” “Listen to the small group leaders when they teach about this Bible passage — if you rely on your own interpretation, you could be wrong”), but inhale the national corporate news (especially the “fair and balanced” stuff) and actually think that democracy consists of marking little boxes, every four years, with x’s, and that the politicians who get into office will listen to, and obey, the voice of the people.

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Tyranny — Bit by Bit

“Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”

Thomas Jefferson said that, and while he’s not an official evangelical Christian sort, he had a fair amount of commonsense, which quite unfortunately does not necessarily correspond with a belief in Jesus.

Christians, I know what Romans 13: 1-7 says, with modern translations interpreting Paul’s words to mean submission, or subjection, to secular governing authorities. Take a look at this link, and free yourself from the belief that you must submit yourself to human institutions with the same obedience that you submit yourself to God.

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Scripture calls for us to “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17)

We don’t do that by splitting our worship — giving half to another human being or his institutions, and the other half to God. Render respect to those due respect — so that all may go well with you — but never allow your obedience to any man to supersede your obedience to God.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage all of us to be submissive to God — we are His children and His servants. We belong to him.

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We do not, however, belong to any other human being. Slavery is a man made institution, and it takes many different forms. Let’s not willingly hold our hands out for the shackles.

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Business Advice from a Homemaker

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting of woman walking on the beach, by Steve Henderson

Thinking is free, and we can never do too much of it. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

Recently, I spent an hour on the phone with a scam artist who was pushing an extremely expensive, vastly overrated SEO service onto an unsuspecting client of mine. A 30-second Internet search brought up four top stories about the questionable ethics of this organization.

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Nonetheless, the client wanted me to talk to the representative about the company blog — because this service was “free” — and I saw this as a great opportunity to get an answer to a question all bloggers ask (and many, many “experts” write books about):

“Give me just ONE concrete idea, that is workable and plausible, and that actually bumps up blog readership numbers.”

“Oh, well, there’s no one thing anyone can do, but if you write great content and get it out there, you’ll grab the readers!”

If that’s an example of concrete, then it’s no wonder skyscrapers free fall to the ground in 10 seconds when airplanes hit them.

The Business of Making Money

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Now apparently a lot of savvy business owners are clueless about some of the basics, so it will take a career homemaker to point this out: there are droves of confident, assertive consultants who will charge you a lot to prepare a report about your business, telling you everything that you are doing wrong. Generally, they’ll say that your employees are at fault, and the money you could spend paying them a decent wage is better invested in hiring consultants, sending workers to seminars, conducting group meetings, and filling in the gaps with extra middle management. At no time, ever, listen to the people who perform the actual work and ask them for their opinion. If morale is low, slap positive thought posters around the cubicles and order in pizza (but send around a “contribution” can first).

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I’m not that old, but I’ve watched too many small businesses drive themselves to the corporate coffin using this model. If you’re over 50 and you think, “Gee, it seemed different when I was younger. Businesses were friendlier, and I got more for my money,” you’re not in the throes of dementia.

Boys and Their Trains, original oil painting of Santa by Steve Henderson

Yes, businesses used to be smaller, and they used to be friendlier, and they used to think about customers as more than monetary units. Boys and Their Trains, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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The Business of Church

The sad thing is that churches nowadays (or has it always been this way?) model themselves upon the corporate paradigm, and in addition to focusing on numbers and costs, they talk big business (“intentional excellence,” “missional drive,” “authentic community dynamics,” “focusing on identity”), act big business (group and leadership assemblages, really really awful PowerPoint presentations, annual meetings with strict attention to Robert’s Rules of Order), and divide themselves into upper management (senior pastor, senior associate pastor, board of elders), middle management (worship team, visitation committee, small group leaders), and drones (those who sit in the pew and absorb everything they are told).

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Instead of sending employees . . . er, congregants . . . to seminars, they bring in the message with videos, DVDs, books, and workbooks by financial, relationship, and social gurus whose main claim to expertise is that they pastored a big church and leveraged their name into something marketable, or they are the child of someone who did this, or they’re just a tremendously good talker with the right connections who promotes big, but doesn’t have to be around to answer for why what they propound doesn’t necessarily work.

We Can’t Figure This out for Ourselves?

(Take “Christian” finances, for example: People, are we so monetarily immature that we need to pay someone $100 per couple to tell us, via DVD and workbook, to not charge more than we have the ability to pay? And furthermore, because we are so cluelessly stupid, the only solution is to cut the cards up?

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Or “Biblical Womanhood” — what is it about the cute blonde speaker, staring deep into our eyes from the screen and breathily assuring us that Jesus loves us, dearly, dear, that is so profound?)

We are weak, my friends, the same way that too many of our businesses are weak, because we throw responsibility for our lives, our thoughts, and our spirituality into the laps of decisive and dynamic personalities who assure us, for a fee (in Jesus’ name, of course), that they will point to us the answer to our problems. But they’re not around to make sure that what they say actually works, and when it doesn’t, it will be our fault, somehow. (There’s another DVD seminar next week that will address that problem — it’s $45, $65 with the workbook.)

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Free. Free. Free!

You probably own a Bible, or several, already, so at no additional cost to you or your family, you can find truth, because that’s what is in the Book: truth.

And because, despite our dismal education system, you probably can read, you don’t need any expert to help you access that information. You just need time, and the willingness to read the Word for yourself, ask God what it means, and be alert to what He has to say.

Before you swipe your debit card for yet another distance seminar or small group class, invest 30 hours, say, of time into reading the Bible for yourself.

And “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything  I have said to you.” (John 14: 25)

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It’s free! Wouldn’t you like to be?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my constant message is this: read the Bible for yourself. Think independently. Stop being so submissive and giving control of your mind to others.

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Live Happily on Less (yep, it’s a book, my book — aren’t I shameless? I self-published it, as I do all my books, because major, or even minor, publishers aren’t interested in ordinary people whose names are as obscure as they are. But, as an ordinary person on an ordinary budget, I actually know how to spend money wisely — because I have to.)

 

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