Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Christian Prosperity: What Does It Look Like?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When you don’t own a sailboat, and you seem to be the only person in your neighborhood who doesn’t, you wonder what is wrong with you. Golden Sea, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

As an intelligent person, I know that the Make a Million NOW! type books only make a million for a limited number of people, not the least of which are the authors. Nonetheless, there’s always that little bit of aggressive, greedy American in me who thinks,

“But what if they really work?”

“What if it really is easy to be a millionaire, and I’m just too dumb to do it?”

And then my mind flies back into my body again and I move on with life because logic alone tells you that if making a million dollars were as easy as the books promise, we’d all be sipping Mai Tais by our swimming pool.

It’s bad enough that these books abound, but not surprising, because humans being what we are, we like stuff and lots of it, and anyone who can tell us how to get lots of stuff has our attention.

The Love of Money, and Christians

Unless we’re Christians, that is, because as Christians we don’t live in a world ruled by money and an insatiable desire to have more and more things.

Or do we?

The other day at a hotel the Norwegian Artist and I were flipping through the 596 channels available on Direct TV when we saw a series of familiar faces (“Wasn’t he arrested several years ago for fraud?”) and a bunch of new ones, but all of the mouths were uttering pretty much the same message:

“JESUS has a plaaaaaan for your life!”

“JESUS is the God of ABUNDANCE, and He wants you to share in his Gloooooooorious riches!”

“The Power of JESUS will answer your prayers!”

Where Does the Money Come From?

To make sure that the latter prophecy comes true, it’s important to buy the book, whatever it is and whoever it’s by, and while you’re at it, tuck in an extra $50 to keep this valuable ministry going. The scary thing about these messages is that, if you listen to them long enough, you might start to believe them.

Apparently people do, because the faces with the message — who are, indeed, enjoying an abundance of material blessings — don’t go away. And you wonder,

If you feel small and defenseless in the face of a big world, that’s okay. Your life is in the hands of a Big God. Bold Innocence, licensed open edition art print by Steve Henderson.

“What if it’s true? What if the reason that I’m struggling is because I really don’t know the ‘secret’ to tapping into the Power of God? What if I’m truly a faith-lacking, weak, useless Christian?”

Yes, You’re Weak, and That’s Okay

Well, if it’s any help, yes, you’re weak and yes, you lack faith — we all do. God is the strong one, and the faith we need to get through each day comes from Him, not us, so relax on those counts.

But I know what you’re saying: “What if I’m a loser?”

If you’re a loser because you’re not rich and powerful and famous, then you’re in good company with all of the apostles, a series of martyrs that continue to the present day, and Jesus Himself, because when the Christian life, my friend, talks about riches, it isn’t referring to the numbers in your bank account.

But if you’re still doubtful, because the message of prosperity is so strong and pervasive, then change channels and listen to a different type of evangelist — Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Christian author and minister who spent a total of 14 years in prison; he was the founder of the Voice of the Martyrs and the author of Tortured for Christ, from which this quote derives:

Another Kind of Christian Lifestyle

“The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. When I lost consciousness or became too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confession, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead, to regain a little strength so they could work on me again.

“Many died at this stage, but somehow my strength always managed to return. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut eighteen holes in my body.

“When my family and I were ransomed out of Romania and brought to Norway, doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself that it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles.

“I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church in persecuted countries. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message of your suffering, faithful brethren.”

Wurmbrand rejoiced because God performed a miracle in his life.

And it had nothing to do with a new car.

Do you feel humbled? I know I do.

 

 

Baaaaaaaaadddd Christians — Redeemed!

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We choose the oddest people, or otherwise, to get excited about, and even Christians fall into idolizing celebrities. Ruby, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Within Christian circles, we enjoy stories about people who have really, really messed up and then, through Christ, turned their lives around.

You know, former gang members, Mafia hit men, millionaires who lost it all and lived in the streets, raging alcoholics who will just have a coffee now, thank you. They make people like me, and a lot of you, look . . . boring.

Some lives make great published books, movies, and speaking engagements, because the people who lived them were so outrageously involved in appalling activities that we flock to them for inspiration:

“Wow. He was responsible for the financial ruin of thousands of innocent people, and now, praise Jesus, he’s saved. Do you know that he has a talk show?”

Of course, in our society where the book is outdated shortly after it’s printed, we rarely follow up on these people, and we don’t know much of the continuing story, but for a week or so, they’re all the rage.

We’re Promoting the Wrong Message

Without intending to, our fascination with extreme badness, redeemed, offers a few subtle messages:

1) Being bad, really really bad, pays off in publicity, fame, and money.

2) Jesus solves problems instantaneously, and although we’ve been bad, really really bad, once we trust in Him, we are completely and totally free from all the troubles that plagued us in our pre-Jesus life.

3) Unless we have been bad, really really bad, we have nothing of interest to say to anybody. Nobody — book publishers, Christian women’s lunch clubs, Oprah — is interested in us.

Let’s address these misconceptions:

1) The consequences to our actions generally last a long, long time, so while redemption from extreme badness may result in fame, fleeting or not, the hurt we’ve caused, the lives we’ve damaged (including our own), the dishes we’ve broken — don’t go away. Through Christ, thank God we receive forgiveness, but this doesn’t necessarily absolve us from restitution: paying back the people we’ve cheated, serving a prison term for the crimes we’ve committed, replacing teeth that meth addiction destroyed, accepting that some people will never forgive us and there’s no way we can make them do so.

Change takes time, and it happens through many seasons in our lives. Autumn Sail by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas

Do you think that the apostle Peter ever forgot that he denied Christ three times? Or that the apostle Paul blithely disremembered lives that were destroyed, because of him, prior to his conversion? The pain of these memories fused into the fiber of their being, affecting the remainder of their lives — and while God takes bad things and uses them for good, memories and regrets remain. The consequences of our past actions become a part of the way we live through our future.

It is only through grace, and Christ’s love, that we keep standing, and walking. This process tends to not be particularly exciting or glamorous, and when it’s working, it leads us toward humility, as opposed to fame.

Change Is Not as Easy as It Seems

2) While it is true that some people are immediately, completely, and miraculously cured of an addiction, like alcohol abuse, most people slog through the tedious, dreary day-by-day challenge of overcoming what has enslaved them. While this isn’t as dramatic and worthy of Tweeting about as an instant cure, it’s reality, and the people who go through it possess a sense of compassion, empathy, humility, and grace that is actually helpful to those around them who are also struggling.

Think of it: when you’re hurting, who helps you out more:

Person A: Jesus healed me and I’ve never had a problem with it since!

or

Person B: I know what you’re going through, because I battle with it every day. Christ gives me strength, and He is giving it to you, too. Hang in there, and hold tight to His hand — it’s His strength that will save you, not yours.

You Matter

3) Every single Christian has a story, and the means to help other people on this planet. Your unique experiences and life, in tandem with your walking close to the Master of the Universe, mean that you do, indeed, have something to say, whether or not it’s on national TV. (Don’t hold out for being on the cover of the Oprah Magazine; the qualifications for this position are pretty stringent.)

You’re too ordinary to be interesting? Don’t worry about it — there are 7 billion ordinary people walking around on this planet. It’s God who is extraordinary, and when we focus on his amazingness as opposed to promoting our own, everyone wins.

 

10 Ways to Be a Successful Christian

posted by Carolyn Henderson

What makes a successful Christian is different than what makes a successful financier. Fortunately. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I’m not a fan of bullet pointed lists, which is why most of my articles are not titled the way this one is. While it’s nice, and convenient, to see things in list form, life isn’t necessarily lived that way, unless we’re talking about 6 solutions to the cat pooping outside the litter box, or 5 proven techniques to get your teenagers to pick up their stuff off of the floor (please, if anyone has that list, send it to me).

But as a concession to popular demand, I give you, this one time, 10 ways to be a successful Christian:

The List

1) Talk to God. A lot. I tend to do this in my head, since thinking is faster than speaking, in the same way that typing is faster than writing by hand. And people don’t look at you weirdly. Praying is essentially talking to God, as if He were a Person, which He is. You just can’t see Him, touch Him, or audibly hear Him, necessarily, but He does communicate back.

2) Read the Bible for yourself, in a way that you find enjoyable. Do you know how many incredible stories are in that book? Read them, like stories. If you find yourself getting bogged down and bored, go somewhere else. God wrote the book — and a good way of getting to know any author is by reading what he writes.

Find Something You Understand

3) While you’re at it, find a translation that you enjoy and comprehend. There is no rule that you have to read the King James Version, and since we haven’t spoken in that fashion for 500 years or so, it is understandable if you get frustrated.

You’ll enjoy reading something more when you understand what it says. Christmas Story, original painting and signed limited edition print by Steve Henderson.

4) You know how we always throw out the term, “Personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” Take the “personal” part seriously and recognize that you can function outside a corporate body, and study the Bible independently of a pastor, deacon, elder, deaconess, or Sunday School teacher. God has made you an intelligent being, and He has no problem with your using that intelligence.

“Ministries” Are Over-Rated

5) Stop worrying about your “ministry.” As a Christian, you are on, 24/7, and every moment of your day is given to God. You are not useful only when you are teaching a class, or leading a group, or speaking at the front of the building. Wherever you are, and whatever you do, you live with a hope inside of you that many people do not have. When you focus on that hope, and the Person who gives it to us, you automatically minister to those around you.

6) Recognize that you do not have to be strong and put together. 2 Corinthians 4:7 tells us that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” Whereas human beings pride themselves on their skill, acumen, intelligence, and ability, God looks for a humble heart that reaches out to Him for wisdom and direction. Are you weak, ineffectual, confused, and limited in your abilities? That’s no problem for God; what does hinder His working through us is our pride, arrogance, and the insistence upon taking over.

HELP!

Talk to God about it. That’s what King David did, all the time. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed art print at Great Big Canvas.

7) Building on number 6, get into the habit of asking God for help. Israel’s first king, Saul, developed a habit of NOT asking God for direction, whereas David, his successor, inquired of the Lord all the time, 1 Samuel Chapter 23 being a good example of this. Now David happened to have a personal priest handy, which many of us lack, but as Christians we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, and this is our direct link to the Master. When you ask, God will answer, and you don’t have to worry about “missing” what He says, because He will work with you where you are.

8) Don’t worry that you don’t have the “right” words or pray in the properly prescribed manner. The idea that we have to phrase our requests in a specific fashion, or they won’t work, is an old, old one that continues to sell books and DVDs promising to “unlock” the power of God. Romans 8:26 assures us, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit.” Use the money you save on the book to buy yourself a cup of coffee, and sit and meditate.

Be Thankful

9) Thank God, on a regular basis, for the beautiful things that He has given you: food, clothing, a warm home, people who love you, the book you discovered at the library, your hands with the opposable thumbs — the list is endless. Too often it is easy to focus on what we don’t have, especially in relation to what the people around us have (that’s called coveting). Developing an attitude of gratitude results in a happier, more content person that everyone likes to be around.

10) Recognize that you don’t have to earn God’s love — you already have it. I know you’re a screw-up. We all are. Too often, people say, “I’ll get back to God once I get my life together,” when really, you can’t get your life together unless you’re back with God. The unconditional love He shows you is an example of how He wants us to unconditionally love the people around us.

Well that’s 10 — but there are more, which is why I don’t like bullet point lists. Christianity is a lifelong journey, taken one moment at a time, and we keep learning and changing and growing until the last breath leaves our lips.

 

The Four-Year-Old Christian

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Loving one another, as Christians, involves embracing and understanding. Seaside Story, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

We were building sandcastles at the beach — the Norwegian Artist, Tired of Being Youngest, Small Person, and I — when an argument arose about the green and red plastic seahorse molds. Other than the colors, they were identical, but to Small Person — who is four years old — the colors mattered very much indeed.

“I want the red seahorse,” she announced to Tired of Being Youngest, 13 years her senior. “You take the green one.”

No doubt it was the bossy tone that prompted TBY to reply, “No, I’m taking the red one.”

“NO! I want the red one!”

Back and forth, niece and aunt, until I intervened. It brought back memories — not all memories are fond ones, you know — of sibling rivalry.

“You are the adult on the beach,” I told TBY. “and you really don’t care about the color of the seahorse. Give in.”

Smiling ruefully, she handed over the horse with grace and aplomb. “It’s just that she’s acting like such a four year old.”

All Adults Have Been 4-Year-Olds

I understand. All adults on the planet, at some point, have been four year olds, and while we’ve pretty much advanced past the challenges of the age, now and then the inner child in us stomps our foot, sets our chin, and announces that We Want the Red Horse. Most of the time, however, we act like grown-ups, and while we don’t allow the four-year-olds in our lives to stomp all over us, we do — with grace and aplomb — give in to some of their demands simply because we’re the adults and they’re not, and whatever they’re demanding really isn’t worth fighting over.

We lift one another up, and work with each other where we are. Little Angel Bright, original oil painting, limited edition print, and poster by Steve Henderson.

So it is within the realm of Christianity, and all of us who are Christians have been, and acted, like four-year-olds in our early, immature days. The mature believers around us — while they didn’t let us stomp all over them — smiled graciously and gave in when it didn’t really matter, knowing that they could do more damage by insensitively ignoring what was important to us.

Ideally, We Grow up

As we grow and learn about Christ, many of us leave the four year old behind, but within the Christian community, there are some who stop at that age, and like Small Person, they can be quite vociferous about their opinions. While it is tempting to lash out at these people harshly, this is not how the mature Christian responds. The apostle Paul, in Romans 14, discusses the four-year-old Christians within our midst:

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.”

These disputable matters include what we do, or do not, eat or drink; what holidays we do or do not celebrate and how; how we dress. Extrapolating this to modern day, we can add what we read, which movies (if any) we enjoy, whether or not we think it’s okay to wear make-up, color our hair, play cards, meet with friends in a bar, or allow our 12-year-old daughter to shave her legs.

It’s Easy to React Negatively

And while the human nature within us responds to the bossy (read: legalistic) tone by provoking the person demanding the red horse, this really isn’t right:

“You, then, why do you judge your brother?” (This is to the four-year-olds.) “Or why do you look down on your brother?” (This is to the mature Christian, which has a four-year-old lurking inside, somewhere, incidentally). “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14: 9-10)

In every family, there are all ages of people, from infants, to four-year-olds, to teenagers, to young adults, the middle aged, the well seasoned — and we can all learn and benefit from one another. I’ll be the first to admit that, though as an adult I have more to teach Small Person than she has to teach me — I’d be a fool if I didn’t realize that she does, indeed, have something to say.

And what sort of adult would wheel around on that child, snatch the red seahorse from her hands, and snarl, “Shut up! It’s just a stupid, plastic, TOY!”

Or maybe Paul says it better:

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” (Romans 15:7).

 

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