Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Self-Acceptance: Why Is This So Difficult?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

God created us to find Him and experience joy. Jubilee, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Self-acceptance is one of those universal human issues that Christians aren’t supposed to talk about because, as we all know, we shouldn’t be worried about “self” anymore.

And therein lies the problem — not the worrying about ourselves, but in the “shouldn’t be worried about” part that so consistently trips us up in our walk with God.

We’re not supposed to do this. And we’re not supposed to think that. And we really shouldn’t/oughtn’t/mustn’t have a problem with this or that or the other.

All of these control words add up to muddy our thinking when it comes to who we are, what we are, and just who loves us or cares about us, the most important person being God Himself.

Think about it: wasn’t the promise of God’s love (and acceptance) one of the major draws when you thought about becoming a Christian? When you became a believer, was it on the basis of sheer unadulterated intellectual logic, or was there a teensy weensy bit of hope that Someone big, powerful, protective, and perfect not only made you, but loves you?

We Love Being Loved

I love being loved, and have been blessed by a husband, progeny, and

We love being loved, and we NEED to be loved. Family is an up close and personal means of learning what real love looks like. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Light in the Box.

extended family that is noisy, chaotic, creative, energetic and loving. On a recent birthday, my best presents were phone calls, Facebook messages, and in-person interactions with people who truly smile when I walk into the room, as I do when I see them. Our unconditional love — imperfect as it is — runs both ways, and I learn more about how my Father sees me by the way my heart melts when I hug one of my children than I do by all the sermons on a sea of Sundays (or Saturdays, if you prefer).

Family and friends — and especially young children — are walking, visual PowerPoint presentations that God has put into our lives to show us what love, and acceptance, look like. Anyone who has been around the average toddler knows that they can be demanding, unreasonable, immature, and shortsighted; we also know that these traits, which are in line with their age and maturity, are not a basis for rejection.

We Accept Rejection Too Easily

And yet, we accept rejection from God all the time, convinced that we messed up so badly today — what did we do? Were we impatient? Did we cut off another driver in traffic? Fall asleep instead of do our daily devotion? — that He cannot look on us without revulsion.

1 John 4:18-19 reassures us that we do not have to walk around God in fear and trepidation all the time, as if He were some psychotic, unreasonable middle manager consistently picking at us and finding fault:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 

“We love because he first loved us.”

That last sentence is a biggie, and well worth running through our minds, again and again and again, until it sticks.

We Can’t, and Don’t, Earn His Love

He loved us. First. While we were still creepy. While we were still disinterested in anything He had to say or offer. While we were unpleasant and unapproachable and overweeningly proud and stuffed up about our amazing-ness and our lack of need for something as archaic and intellectually demeaning as God.

And when we turned to Him and said, “Oh yes, please, LOVE me!” nothing changed. God didn’t suddenly attach caveats and conditions to that love of His, but we did, becoming aware of outside voices telling us that we “need” to do this and we “ought” to do that or else . . .

God won’t love us anymore.

Don’t listen to these voices. When you hear them, take them straight to God with the question, “What about this? What do you want me to do? Lead me. Show me. Love me.”

That’s what He wants — moment by moment communion and our total dependence, and trust, upon His love and guidance. He accepts us, and realizing this is the first, and most crucial, step toward our accepting ourselves.

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I post three times a week, and if you signed up to subscribe (upper right menu bar) I would be most ecstatic. If you like what you read, please pass me on.

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Seminar Christianity

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We grow more as a Christian in our solitude, with Christ, than we do in big rooms with seminar speakers. Lady in Waiting, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

We are a society with little time to read, reflect, think, or meditate. Increasingly, our dialogue with one another is limited to whatever one-liners we can fit onto a Tweet, a text, or a Facebook post, and while I love a good one liner as much as anyone (“The only thing money gives you is the freedom of not worrying about money” – Johnny Carson), I recognize the pitfalls of living by them.

Within a half-century plus a year, I have adroitly managed to avoid attending any sort of seminar — an accomplishment I hope to continue into the second half-century — but it’s hard not to spend 15 minutes on the Internet without running into seminar speakers through blogs, articles, social media, and book advertisements. My first thought is always, “People pay money to listen to these you?”

What Are They Saying That Is So Profound?

IMPROVE yourself! EVER DAY! In EVERY WAY!

Of course, they phrase it with more sparkling wit than I do, but the essential message is the same:

Do this. Don’t do that. And you’ll succeed. It’s that simple.

As we seek success, we need to define the word first — lots of money, fame, and power, or joy, wisdom and grace? Brimming Over, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson at Great Big Canvas.

Some of what they say is common sense, which works sometimes and doesn’t others, along the lines of, “Work hard and you’ll succeed.”

And while this sounds good, it isn’t necessarily true, because there are lots of people out there working very hard who aren’t succeeding in the way that they hope. Their stories are most tragic when they pay money to be fed one liners, and the only one succeeding financially is the guy behind the speaker’s stand who’s written the book.

Christian Superstars Telling Us How to Make a Million

When these one liners are tossed out in a business climate that’s one thing, but when they are dropped from the pulpit, in the form of Bible verses and subsequent misinterpretations, that’s worse, because we’ve gone from the concept of making money to the innermost core of our spiritual being.

“When you follow JESUS you WIN! You’ll never reach your full potential if you’re not reaching up to God!”

Well that sounds great, and while it’s sort of technically true, it promises more than it delivers, with the understanding that — if you don’t get where you think you’re supposed to be going — then it’s your fault, somehow, because if you knew how to tap into the power of God, nothing could stop you.

But God isn’t an electrical outlet, and following Him isn’t a matter of stringing together a series of witticisms or carefully chosen, out of context Bible verses that say what we want to hear:

Out of Context Bible Verses

“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete,” Jesus tells us in John 16:24. If we’re not getting what we’re asking for, then we’re not asking right, some speakers tell us. But in the same chapter, John 16:33, Jesus also says,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you my have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

That burdensome “trouble” word implies that when we ask for a new car, we may not necessarily get it, and in the back of our minds is the disturbing suspicion that getting what we ask for may not be as easy as the keynote orator promises.

I know, it’s frustrating. Following God is not and never has been easy, and it involves far more than a two-hour presentation with the bonus workbook and activity sheets. Following God is a day by day, moment by moment, never-ending process that requires us to think, meditate, read, reflect, analyze, ask, trust and — this is the big one — wait, because regardless of what anyone else promises, God is not a seminar speaker, and the book He wrote is not a series of one-liners.

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Who are YOU to Speak for the LORD?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

It’s amazing how much our hair — color, style, presentation — attracts the notice of people. Figurative, licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

Any time you stand up, stand out, or do your hair in a different style, people notice. Some individuals are really good about it, saying things like,

“Cool hair. It frames your face well,”

or,

“That style’s . . . different. I can’t say that it particularly flatters you, but if you like it, then it’s up to you.”

(One woman, after I had dyed my hair blonde after a two-year experimentation with being a brunette, waxed eloquent, in public, about the transformation:

“You just didn’t look good, at ALL, as a brunette. This blonde color is really cute.”)

Thank you. I think.

Well that’s hair color. When you start expressing your opinion, verbally or in writing, about more significant issues, like the best overall potato in the universe (Yukon Golds — give them a try, especially organic ones), Genetically Modified Food (GMOs), sex, rock and roll, or — this is a big one — no longer attending church services, then more people notice, and comment.

Expect Comments and Criticism

You expect it, and you get it — from all ends of the spectrum.

As a person who writes about Christianity, I expect, and get, all sorts of commentary, most of which is balanced even when the writer doesn’t agree with my opinion. We dialogue back and forth, and even if we can’t and don’t reach concordance, we maintain a level of politeness commensurate with civilized human beings interacting with one another.

And then there’s the hate mail, so to speak, of commenters violently disagreeing with me and vociferously letting me know. Some are atheists, but more, sadly, are Christians — really, really angry Christians who slap me across the side of the head with Bible verses that make their point quite . . . sharply.

Again, I don’t mind that we oppose. There are, after all, people out there who don’t like Yukon Gold potatoes and stand firmly by red ones or russets. We share the same planet together, even eat one another’s food, and agree to disagree.

Who Is Allowed to Speak, and by Whom?

Ah me. Potatoes and spirituality, however, are two very different things.

When you walk with God, you frequently walk a path where there aren’t a lot of other people. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Recently, someone wrote me,

“Who are you, to speak for the Lord?” following up with numerous Biblical Scriptures, many of which began with, “Woe to the person who . . .” leaving me with no doubt at all as to who the person with all the woe is supposed to be.

“It’s fine for you to express your own opinions,” the writer wrote, “but when you speak for the Lord, you need to follow what Scripture says.”

This very attitude is why I —  a mild mannered middleaged woman — began writing about Christianity, and how ordinary people can successfully live it. I got tired of being attacked by Bible verses and being told — forcefully — what they meant.

Asking Questions Is Not a Sin

Years ago, the Son and Heir was in a junior high boys’ Bible study group, and being the inquisitive sort of creature that he is, asked questions that made his instructors uncomfortable. Questions like,

“How can God send a person to hell if they were born in a society hostile to Christianity, and they have no way of hearing about Jesus?”

“God put everything people need to know on their hearts,” the instructors replied, “and it’s those people’s fault if they don’t believe.”

“Doesn’t that seem a little unfair?”

“Nothing God does is unfair. You’re the one who has the problem because you don’t accept the way He does things.”

“What about John 10:16, when Jesus talks about sheep that are not of this pasture?”

“That’s enough. You need to stop doubting God’s Word.”

Qualifications to Speak for the Lord

The instructors were speaking for the Lord, and so was the Son and Heir, and they were saying two completely and diametrically opposite things. From the instructors’ point of view, it was best to shut up and accept what one was told; from the Son and Heir’s perspective, God’s actions need to be in line with His being. If we allow one voice to dominate all others, we are tyrannized by the thoughts and opinions of a few.

That’s why it’s important that ALL Christians think for themselves, read the Bible and not be satisfied with a weekly sermon, and maintain a personal — not corporate — relationship with Jesus.

As a Christian, every moment is one in which you can speak for the Lord — by your actions, your thoughts, and your words. Don’t let those words be slavishly governed and controlled by the opinions and interpretations of other people.

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I post three times weekly, and I encourage you to subscribe to this blog (top right of the menu bar).

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Quit Yelling at Your Brother

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Relationships are more important than winning arguments. Seaside Story, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Light in the Box.

In our family, we have lively discussions about everything, and because we love one another, we don’t let disagreements get in the way. This is fortunate, because if we did, we would all be living in separate houses.

No, it’s not as bad as all that. Some of us enjoy watching Pride and Prejudice over and over again, while others — strange as this, and they, may seem — do not. But we continue to love these “others” anyway.

On larger topics, like God, Christ, and the Bible, we again exert independence of thought, which each one of us is fully willing and capable of expressing. I call it philosophizing around the dining room table, and it is, because we are truly not arguing. All of us realize that none of what we are talking about can be incontrovertibly proven, and valid questions without answers deserved to be looked at and discussed.

Like this:

Did the parting of the Red Sea actually happen the way it is written, you know, in a miraculous fashion? Or is there a natural explanation that fits into “real life”? And if so, is this still a miracle?

Literal, Symbolic, and in Between

Me — I’m fine with the wall of water on the right and the wall of water on the left and dry land in between — pretty much just the way it’s written. But then again, I have a B.A. in English, which means that I have sat through hours of interpretive analysis of symbolism in what frequently looks to be straightforward text. I will never forget my professor’s lecture on the “train scene” in Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie. Naively, I accepted that Carrie had dreamed about a train, but 20 minutes of lecture explored the possibility of the dream representing the loss of the main character’s virginity.

However the Red Sea was parted, the Israelites made it through safely, and their Egyptian pursuers did not. Whitewater, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Fair enough and food for thought. The main thing I learned from my English degree is that, if you’re looking for it, you can find anything you want in any text you touch. The second thing I learned is that you can make a compelling argument for various interpretations and still remain on speaking terms.

So it is with the Bible — you can seek for symbolism, and there is a lot of that in there, or you can read the surface statement of the text, or you can accept a fusion of the two. Complex and complicated at the same time it can be simple and straightforward, the Bible is a book of truth, and when you read it, you will find truth. And because it is a book of Deep Truth, spanning time and distance and understanding, you will not grasp 100 percent of that truth, and the conclusions you reach will differ, significantly or not, from the conclusions that other people reach.

Room for Different Views

This is why we have so many denominations within Christianity. Some of us believe that the wall of water was literally on the right and left; others do not. We differ on what days to worship, which food to avoid, the style of dress, the traditions we employ, all based upon our interpretation of the text.

But because we are a family, we love one another — which is one of the crucial elements of the text upon which we can agree, symbolism free, and we do not let our philosophizing turn into a shouting match. Whether you are “right” or “wrong,” you’ll never yell someone into the Kingdom of God.

“Dear Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” (1 John 4:7)

Love First, Discussion Next

No matter how you parse this, it’s a fairly straightforward sentence. If you want to analyze what it means to “love one another,” just think about your family, from the people  you besottedly adore to the ones you tolerate, teeth clenched, because by God they’re part of your tribe:

You don’t push your beliefs so forcefully and insensitively that you damage the relationship.

As children of God, Christians can agree on one major, central Person: Jesus Christ. Let us start from there, be free to have lively discussions, and leave the table still loving one another, because ” . . . if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:12)

The world hates us, my friends, and would like nothing better than to see us hate one another as well. Let us agree to disagree on the small, and even the bigger than small, things, and pull together as a family so that we can show the world, tangibly, just what love looks like.

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, and please consider subscribing to this post to receive regular (3 times weekly) notification of new articles. If you like what you read, please pass me on.

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