Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Don’t Worry: It’s NOT All up to You

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We are not doomed to wander, leaderless, from day to day and place to place. Working Trigger, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Pretend, for a moment, that you’re a horse.

Not an old plug, swaybacked and ugly, so derelict that nobody even wants you for free. I mean, seriously, God loves you as his beautiful, precious daughter or son, so once in awhile, can’t we think of ourselves as something better than tapeworms?

So you’re a horse: strong, proud, muscular, gloriously free. With a neigh of joy you gallop mightily through the plains, your powerful hooves pounding the grasslands as you run spirited and exultant. You are God’s workmanship, designed to do marvelous things.

That’s quite an image, isn’t it? So much better than a tapeworm. Now, let’s add on to it:

Travel Directions

From your meadow kingdom, let’s call it Mighty Horse Meadow, you need to travel 90 miles north to a city called The City to the North. Now being a horse, with a horse’s intellect and fundamental inability to read maps or comprehend the clipped British voice directions on the GPS, there’s no way you’re going to find that city, no matter how strong and muscular and powerful and gloriously exultant you are. When it all comes down to it, you’re still a horse, and without direction, you don’t even know that you need to be in that city, much less possess the ability to find it.

Not without a rider, that is.

But with a rider — a wise, caring, horse-whisperer type owner who fully understands the value and worth of a creature like you, you’ll make it to that city, because the rider will direct you there.

The Horse and Rider

So, you’re the horse, and the rider is God. Between the two of you, you will go to many and varied places, and you don’t have to worry that you don’t have the ability and intellect of the Rider, because as long as you listen to the Rider and take direction from Him, you’ll get where you need to go.

Despite being highly intelligent, horses are unable to plan out a trip from Point A to Point B, and get there. When it all comes down to it, neither are we. A Peaceful Nibble, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

In an earlier post, “God Helps Those Who Help Themselves. Yuck,” I discussed our tendency, especially in highly materialistic cultures, to think that everything is up to us, and when we’re not wildly, materialistically, and monetarily successful, we put it down to our being failures, because we’re not working long enough, hard enough, smart enough, or cunningly enough — all attributes that materialistic cultures rate highly.

But that’s not God’s way. God’s way, actually, is that we recognize our weakness, our inability, our limitations, our sheer frailness of being human and mortal, and depend upon Him. He’s the One who has the strength, acumen, wisdom, and ability, and by submitting to Him, we can get out of Mighty Horse Meadow and on the road to Somewhere:

God Directs Us in the Way We Should Go

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go,” Isaiah 48: 17 reassures us. And 58:11 says, “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land.”

And Jeremiah 29: 11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'”

“Okay, okay, I get the point,” we say. But, being highly materialistic, driven people, our general objection to fully depending upon God is this:

“God doesn’t expect me to just sit around and do nothing while He works miracles in my life.”

Well, that’s true, but 95 percent of the truth isn’t the full truth, and the full truth is that you’re a horse, and the Rider does not expect you to get from Mighty Horse Meadows to The City to the North without some work on your part, so don’t focus on the lounge chair and the glass of iced tea yet. You’ll be working, quite hard depending upon the terrain, but always under the direction and guidance of the Rider.

Given that He knows everything — past, present, and future — and we do not, this is probably a pretty good division of labor.

 Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my goal is to encourage Christians and seekers to recognize grace when they see it, and realize that it’s something they have right now and don’t have to buy, earn, or deserve by a series of man-made requirements and obligations.

Posts similar to this one are

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves. Yuck,”

What Unconditional Love Looks Like (at my companion blog, This Woman Writes)

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“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” Yuck.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Wouldn’t you like to feel a bit more like this in your Christian life — sassy, classy, confident that you can walk straight onto the beach because God is with you there? Oddly, the less you depend upon yourself, the more confident you can be. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Okay, let’s find a Bible verse. Ready?

“God helps those who help themselves.”

I’ll give you a few minutes to look, but to save you time, you’ll find it in 2 Obligations 13: 36,  right before the “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” verse.

And if you’re looking for 2 Obligations, you won’t find that in the Bible anywhere, which means that you don’t have to incorporate it, or 1 Obligations, into your life. Neither of these statements, no matter how much they align with the way we believe in the U.S. culture into which I was born, is biblical or necessarily true.

But modern, materialist culture is firmly imbued with the idea that whatever success we achieve in life is due to our own efforts, and if we are not successful — i.e., wealthy — then it’s our fault because we’ve been lazy:

“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10: 4)

Gosh, there must be a lot of lazy people in the world. And there sure are a lot rich people, who don’t look or act particularly kind, who must be Christians because they’re so successful.

Focus on the Whole, as Well as the Parts

When we read the Bible, it’s important to recognize that it’s a book, and the whole thing says something, not just individual verses that we cherry pick (or, in the case of our Obligations verses, invent out of nothing). And when you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, you encounter several themes, one of which is that God is in control — of everything — and that includes our lives. To achieve success — which in His terms doesn’t necessarily translate into money — we need to cede to Him that control.

Listen to what God says about us, and Him:

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48: 17) While you’re at it, start with Isaiah chapter 40, and read all the way to 50 and beyond. Much of what the prophet is discussing there has to do with events that will happen 100 years hence from his writing, and three basic themes emerge:

Three Things to Think about

1) God not only knows the future, he plans and directs it. (I know — that’s a rough one to wrap our minds around, but He’s in complete control, or He’s not, And if He’s not, then who else is sharing power with Him?)

We are His people, holy and dearly beloved. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

2) Idols — whether they are made of wood, bronze, or paper with the saying “In God We Trust” blazoned across the back — are powerless, so calling on them for help defies reason.

3) God’s people — the children of Abraham, who are not limited to the Hebrews of the 7th century B.C. but include the Christians of today (1 Peter 2: 9-10) — are dearly loved. Isaiah 43: 4 tells us, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” I don’t know who the men in question are, but I do know that this sounds like a promise to ransom. You don’t put out resources for people who aren’t worth something to you.

Oh, That PLAN We Always Hear about

Many of us have heard the phrase, “God has a PLAN for your life,” (2 Obligations 16: 14), and while this in true — in the way that hard work is important — it misses the mark in the way all of Obligation’s verses do.

God has a plan, period. He Rules. He Rocks.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45: 6-7)

And lest we think, “Well, Dang. He’s got a plan, I’m in it somehow, and I don’t have any say in the matter,” consider Isaiah 41: 13-14.

” . . . I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you. Do not be afraid . . . for I myself will help you.”

Your Dreams Are No Secret to God

I know you’ve got things you want to do. So do I. And God knows this; indeed, He created us with certain skills, abilities, desires and dreams. Isn’t it good to know, though, that it isn’t all on your shoulders, that it isn’t all dependent upon your cleverness and intelligence and resources and connections?

Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve run up against a brick wall — or a Red Sea — enough times to know that I am very finite in all the major ways: intelligence, resourcefulness, power, wisdom and the very ability to draw my next breath, and it’s good to know that Someone who isn’t limited at all, is holding my hand.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about the challenges of actually living the words that we say we believe. Part of this challenge involves actually reading the words ourselves, and talking to God about them (prayer), as opposed to relying upon a weekly church service or books by Christian celebrities to learn about God.

If you go to church, that’s great — just don’t lapse into complacency that everything you’re told there is all that you need to know. God wants to talk to you directly, without any intermediaries.

Posts that complement this one are

Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books (Isaiah, which I mention in the article above, is a challenging book to get through, and if all you read in your off-time are “Christian” genre books which have the lamentable tendency to be written at a less than challenging reading level, you’ll avoid the Bible because it’s too difficult. But many an educated person in the past learned to read exclusively by reading the Bible, so there’s hope even for our generation.)

High Anxiety: Conquer Your Fear (Worry isn’t a sin so much as it is a bad lifestyle choice. Let’s get past it and grab onto this joy we keep hearing about: it involves trust and prayer.)

God, the Dentist (In the same way that even a great dentist can’t fill his own teeth, we really can’t live our lives without the guidance and wisdom of God.)

 

Is It Okay to Talk to the Grave of Your Loved One?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When we’re hurting, we seek peace, and God is the God of peace and comfort. Peace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Those of you who have read me for awhile can probably guess the answer to any question I posit that begins with, “Is it okay to . . .?”

Yeah, the answer’s probably yes, unless the question is something like,

“Is it okay to walk up to a complete stranger and tell them that they look ugly in purple?” But then, I probably wouldn’t entitle a post like that, choosing instead, something like Nasty, Biting — Unintentional — Things We Say.

But all things considered, the answer is probably yes, as it is to today’s question, “Is it okay to talk to the grave of your loved one?”

Spaghetti Sauce

This question occurred to me as I was making spaghetti last night, which isn’t as random as it sounds, really, because my spaghetti sauce is loosely based upon a recipe of my father’s (Shockingly Simple Spaghetti Sauce); my father is in a better place right now; but I miss him, so when I’m in town where the cemetery is, I drop by and visit his grave.

Sometimes, I talk to him.

I tell him about the Norwegian Artist’s Santa paintings; Tired of Being Youngest’s forays into the culinary world; College Girl’s brave standing up in a group and facing down the bully who happened to be her boss.

Other times, we sit in companionable silence, in much the same way we did when he was alive. His grave overlooks a field of trees, a meadow of reflection on the life of a good man, and the legacy he left behind. Always, always, I end the visit with, “I love you, Dad.”

Sorcery versus Talking

I know he’s dead. I also know that God gives us pretty firm instructions to not to practice divination and sorcery (Leviticus 20: 26), and that it was a definite no-no for Saul to seek counsel with the spirit of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28.

Sometimes, talking to the ones we’ve lost is a form of contemplation; a conversation in our head that allows us to explore our feelings. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

There is a wall of some sort separating those of us on earth from those of us who have fallen asleep, and we are expressly told to not attempt to scale that wall. (Leviticus 19:31 — “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord Your God.”)

But the emotion of relationships does not abruptly end when another person’s breath does, and it can be part of the grieving process to talk to the person we can no longer sit in the same room with. At a time when we’re hurting, the last thing we need is someone telling us that we are evil because we look up heavenwards and say something like,

“You would have enjoyed this movie. It was a good one.”

So if you find yourself, like me, visiting a loved one’s grave and chatting, here are a few thoughts to ruminate on:

Quit Beating up on Yourself

1) Don’t flagellate yourself for talking to someone you love and miss. God’s there right beside you, and He hears what you’re saying and can pass on the message somehow.

2) While talking’s fine,  seeking wisdom from this person, or praying to them for answers, isn’t particularly wise. God tells us in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me,” meaning that He, and He alone, is the one we worship, seek guidance from, and pray to.

3) Time heals wounds, although scars generally remain. When grief is fresh, we are more likely to visit the grave site, if there is one, and talk to the departed. As time goes by, we need this less and less, and that’s not only okay, it’s preferable. It’s hard to keep up a conversation with someone who can’t converse back, and the only one from the spiritual world with whom we can do this, is God (see point 2).

Transition Back to the Land of the Living

4) Remember the living. We’ll never stop missing someone we loved very much, and it’s absurd for people to suggest that this is so. At the same time, there are others who knew this person as well — perhaps are hurting as much or more than we are over the loss — and sometimes we can find solace in one another.

5) When something no longer works, move on. I find myself talking less and less to my father, and more and more about him. While his physical presence is no longer here, his legacy — through his words, his actions, his stories, and his spaghetti sauce — lives on, and I honor his memory by incorporating these into my own life and passing them on.

Hebrews 12: 1 mentions our being surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” of people who no longer walk on the ground we do; Matthew 17: 3 reports Moses and Elijah, appearing on a mountain top, talking with Jesus — so when people die, they still exist, just in a different place. Much more than that, we really don’t know anything.

Death is a horrible thing, and it wrenches the lives of those left behind. If talking to the person lost helps, let it, and don’t add guilt to the burden of grief.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I post three times a week, and you can subscribe by clicking on the Subscribe button at the top right of the menu bar.

Posts loosely related to this one are

When You’re Not as Happy as You Wish You Were

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Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If we know how to read, we have been given a precious gift that only gets better the more we use it. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I read very few designated “Christian” books.

As a lover of thoughtful, well-written literature, I read for entertainment as well as for enlightenment, and find fiction to be a sublime means of conveying truth. It’s no accident that Jesus used stories to teach: good stories, told by a master, captivate the audience, and leave them much upon which to reflect.

This isn’t to say that well-written non-fiction (there’s that “well-written” term again) does not teach as well. But within both the Christian and non-Christian publishing camps, there’s a bit too much feel-good, self-help smarm, much of it with the author’s name far more prominent than the title.

Are There Only 50 Christian Authors?

The 31 years that I have been a Christian are long enough to notice changes, trends, and messages, and one thing I observe is that many of the authors who were writing books 31 years ago, are still writing them today.

Which is fine: when you have something to say, you keep saying it, in greater depth as wisdom is acquired. The problem is, many of these authors are saying the same things they said 10, 20, 31, years ago, and it’s not as if it were that splendidly profound the first time around.

By the time I eliminate the smarm (“You have POWER in His Name!” “Affirm the Promises with Authenticity!”) and the charm: (“Sweet, sweet Sister – Jesus sooooooo loves you”), there’s not much left that I can’t pick up myself from reading the Bible, meditating upon what it says, and communing with God in prayer. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need workbooks to teach.

A Story within a Story

The other day I picked up a little volume — by a man who’s been writing for 10, 20, 31–plus years — and gave him another try because 1) his Magnum Opus truly deserves the name and 2) the latest volume made promises about “critical thinking,” “analysis,” “truth,” and “investigative inquiry.”

I was immediately chary because the book is a frame narrative, or story within a story, a literary device that works with The Arabian Nights or The Canterbury Tales, but not as often as it is used. You see, when you wrap information around a fictional story, both the information you present and the fictional story have to be very, very good, and in the increasing number of Christian books — and movies — that employ this device, the fictional story is very, very bad.

As was the one in this book. The characters were shallow, trite, unengaging and one-dimensional, uttering dialogue like,

“Well gosh, Persephone, what does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

Thank You, God, for Libraries

As a mature reader, however, I knew what I was getting into (which didn’t involve spending money, thank God for libraries), but skimmed through the pathetic story to grasp the scant, salient material that there was. After awhile, I began to think,

Good, well written books transport us to places of beauty, mystery, intrigue, and intellectualism. She Danced by the Light of the Moon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“I’ve read this, somewhere, before.”

And I had. In the author’s Magnum Opus, of 30-some years ago. No new wisdom, no additional insight, just a poorly written frame story loosely presenting the same information regurgitated in new and uninspiring ways.

“But he’s making it more accessible to today’s reader!”

If today’s reader, today’s Christian, is a witless, cerebrally-starved insensate who cannot grasp words of more than two syllables, then this is the book — and the type of book — for him. But I refuse to believe that the vast majority of people in society, and especially its Christians, are this intellectually shallow.

Let’s Raise Our Standards

As a society, we have been dumbed down for years through our educational system, our media, and sadly, our religious organizations, to the point that too many people won’t touch Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (it was a book long before there were movies), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, because “the sentences are too long and the words are too big.”

Okay, so go read Hemingway. Or Pearl S. Buck.

If you absolutely can’t read fiction, then advance beyond helping yourself all the time, and seek out thoughtful history, commentary, philosophy, and religion (which you won’t necessarily find in the “Christian” section, so check out different aisles in the library).

But seek out quality, books written with more than sales — based upon the author’s name — in mind and grow in your ability to analyze, investigate, scrutinize, interpret, and think. If you’ll give fiction — good fiction — a chance, you’ll find that it probes truth in ways that force you to ask questions and meditate, the very purpose of Jesus’ parables.

But whatever you do, reach up, intellectually, and demand food for the mind that nourishes, not Cheezy Wheezies that are easy to pop mindlessly into your mouth. We all know what a diet of Cheezy Wheezies looks like on our bodies, and in our lives.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I seek out, and encourage readers who want a real, deeper relationship with Christ than what they are finding in today’s pop evangelical culture.

I’m not famous; I’m not particularly well known, but I pray before I publish each article that the people who need to read the article, will. So if you’re with me on this page today, you are an answer to prayer. Believe — that God is real, that He is Who He says He is, and that He cares about you. By seeking Him earnestly — and not relying upon others to do this for you — you will grow closer to Him and find the joy we all seek.

“Come near to God, and He will come near to you.” (James 4: 8)

Posts similar to this one are

Reading Through the Bible in a Year (YAWN)

Who’s Your Guru?

Seminar Christianity

Sham Christians: Don’t Be Fooled by Them

People Call Us Stupid, You Know

 

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