Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Anxious and Troubled about Many Things

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-41 is a familiar one to many, especially women. The other day, I even ran across the term, “Martha Syndrome,” which I’m sure I have, because of a pronounced tendency (according to every single member of my immediate, and a significant percentage of my distant, family) to be “anxious and troubled about many things.”

Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer

Mary listened; Martha fussed. As Christians, we do both, throughout out lives. Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer.

That’s how the English Standard Bible quotes Jesus’s words; other translations use synonyms like “worried,” “bothered,” “distressed,” “distracted,” “upset,” and “disquieted.”  The God’s Word translation uses the word, “fuss,” which brings to mind Lucy from Charles Schultz’s Peanuts cartoon.

Here’s a reminder of the story:

“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations 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, Martha,’ The lord answered, ‘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.'”

People Need to Eat

Quiet honestly, I’ve always sympathized with Martha. As the mother of a large family, I know what people are like when they haven’t eaten for awhile, and I also know that food doesn’t prepare itself by itself. Martha had a household to take care of, and Mary wasn’t doing anything — tangible — to help.

So Martha isn’t a bad person — she is a socially adept hostess who knows the duties that are expected of her, and she performs them.

Mary, on the other hand, is not a lazy person (really, other-people-like-me, she isn’t). While there’s a tendency to think of Mary as a daydreaming mystic, it’s highly likely that she, like Martha, knew the social duties demanded of her, but made a conscious, intelligent choice to put them aside in exchange for something more worthwhile:

Sitting, at Christ’s feet, and listening to Him speak.

It’s easy to say, in hindsight, that if we were given the opportunity today to do the same, we would drop everything and follow Mary’s example, but would we? Would we really?

Because do we? Do we now?

It’s Not Doing; It’s Being

I don’t mean getting up at 4 a.m. for Quiet Time or attending weekly small group studies at the church. I don’t even mean reading the Bible on a regular basis, although this is an excellent option we have available to us to access Christ’s words.

Dancer inspirational original oil painting of woman in red on abstract background by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at iCanvasART, Amazon.com, Art.com, and Framed Canvas Art

When we release our worries and focus our thoughts on Christ, our dance is one of joy and beauty. Dancer, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, Art. com, and iCanvasART.

I mean, like Mary, walking away from the things that distract us, and choosing what is better.

So what, exactly, did Mary choose that was better?

Like many of Christ’s pronouncements, this isn’t made concretely clear, as in, “Mary has chosen me, Jesus, over the worries of the world,” and while this is the standard, obvious, and frankly sensible way we generally interpret this verse, it’s worth pursuing beyond the Sunday sermon.

My handy Greek lexicon tells me that the word “which,” in verse 42 — “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Revised Standard Version) can also be translated as “Who.” This is in line with what Jesus, and the context of the story, appear to be saying:

Mary is sitting at Christ’s feet, as opposed to running around doing things.

There’s nothing wrong with doing things — indeed, if we didn’t do things, then nothing would get done. (How’s that for a profound statement?)

But in doing things, we get busy, distracted, anxious, fussy, worried, and distressed, because as anyone who has ever washed a dish or tossed a pair of underwear in the laundry knows, there is no end to doing things. And there is no end of things to worry about.

Life — and its problems — never end.

When Worrying Is How We Think

I know a beautiful young woman who was extremely nervous about a test she needed to take to keep her job. She studied for it, practiced for it, and spent a significant amount of time worrying about it — I mean, what would happen if she didn’t pass?

She would lose her job.

And what would happen if she lost her job?

I’m sure you can keep going on this just as well as I can, as you’ve no doubt had adequate practice with the process.

Well, the happy ending of the story is that she passed — phenomenally. That evening she called and told me,

“I’m so relieved. So very very relieved. I almost don’t know how to think, because worrying about this has filled my brain for so long. And I have nothing to worry about anymore.

“At least for now.”

There it is — the Martha Syndrome. Sure enough, several days later, she had amassed a new set of worries — actually, they were old worries, ones that had receded to the shadows while the test took prominence. While for one brief evening she had mental respite and a sense of thankfulness, it didn’t last, because worrying is the way she thinks.

And it is the way that all of us can think, “worried and upset about many things” when we would be so much calmer, and happier, by choosing what is better that will not be taken away from us.

Jesus is our Comforter, our Counselor, our Teacher, our Savior, our Master, our King, our Messiah. He is the Prince of Peace who gives that peace not as the world gives (John 14:27), and He wants us to not be troubled, afraid, anxious, and distressed.

Focus your thoughts on Him. Seek to know more about Him. Give Him your worries and exchange them for meditation on His goodness, His mercy, His grace, His outstandingly abounding love for you — you, my child — whom He treasures, protects, cherishes, and holds.

Make a conscious decision, daily, to choose — and think about — what, and Who, is better.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I worry a whole lot less than I used to — really, Family of Mine.

One thing I have learned is this: if you’re a worrier, don’t add to your woes by slapping yourself in the face and saying, “Worry is a sin!” and if someone else says that to you, well, it’s wise not to slap their face physically. But stomp on their words.

Posts complementing this one are

We’re Not All Extroverts — and Introverts Aren’t Abnormal

Despicable You? No, Not True

When You Can’t Take It Anymore

 

Are You the Only One Going Through What You’re Going Through?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I do not like dealing with mechanics, computer technicians, dentists, and plumbers, among other people — not because these professions are bad, but because for the most part, the people involved in them fix stuff — my stuff.

And one sentence I’ve heard more than once in my interactions with people who fix my stuff looks like this:

Lady In Waiting inspirational original oil painting of woman by Victorian house at sea by Steve Henderson licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Amazon.com

As we wait for the answers to our prayers, sometimes we feel as if we wait alone. But we are never alone. Lady in Waiting, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Amazon.

“Hmmmm.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

You’re kidding. You repair cars, all day, every day, for years and years, and you’ve never seen what’s going on with mine?

And the toilet — it’s so outstandingly unique that its issues have never been recorded before in the annals of plumbing history?

We lived in a small town once that had sand in its pipes — or at least the pipes leading into the ones that led to the toilet in our house — which caused all sorts of complications. The only solution, the plumber said, was to get the city to fix their pipes.

So I called the head of municipal utilities and explained what the plumber had said.

“Hmmmm.

“Nobody else has ever mentioned anything like this before,” he replied.

Oh, yeah?

I Know I’m Not the Only One

“Maybe it’s because they’re afraid that, if they call and tell you about the problem, you’ll say to them what you just said to me,” I retorted. “The plumber said it was your pipework, not ours.”

Amazingly, he agreed to look into it and — despite his never having heard about a problem like this before — it was the city’s fault. And they actually fixed it. Miracles still do happen, outside the Old and New Testament.

I am sure — actually, I am incontrovertibly convinced — that I am not the only person on the planet who has been told, “Hmmmm. I’ve never seen a problem like this before,” and I’ve found that the best way to deal with the issue is to simply refuse to accept this as an excuse, and continue pursuing a solution.

So it is with our day to day lives — it is easy, remarkably easy, to look around us and wonder if we are the only people, on the planet, to live with our specific set of circumstances and problems.

In some ways, we are, but in other ways, despite the unique aspects of our issues, we are not:

Some Things, We All Share

Regardless of what we are going through, regardless of the exclusively uncommon particulars of our predicament, some things are very much the same, and in common with all humans’ experience:

Light in the Forest inspirational original oil painting of two women with candles in Celtic woods by Steve Henderson licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art and amazon.com

We humans share more in common than we think we do, and the light we shine can be a guide for others. Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and amazon.

We feel anxiety, fear, uncertainty, dread, sadness, impatience, despair. It doesn’t matter if we are ill, or if we have lost our job, or our house burned down — the feelings associated with grief, shock, and worry are common to all of us, and at the very least, we can be (oddly) comforted in knowing that we have not been singled out from the rest of humanity.

When we are listening to someone’s woes, and they are beyond our comprehension, this is a good time to remember about the anxiety, fear, uncertainty, etc., and even if we can’t sympathize with our conversant’s actual circumstances, we can empathize — and pray for — the emotional angst they are undergoing.

Let’s remember those feelings, and focus on the pain, before we even think of saying something like,

“Oh, Jesus will take of it all, you know. Just have faith.”

Or, if the problem results even partially from the person’s own bad decisions,

“Well, you brought this on yourself, you know.”

The goal is to comfort, not impress others with our perspicacity, impression of wisdom, and arrogant assessment of spirituality.

“For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help,” Psalms 22:24 tells us, and it’s not a bad example to try to follow.

Living Through Our Personal Pain

When it’s us, living through our personal distress and pain, it’s necessary to remember that we are not alone, abandoned, left bereft and orphaned because — even if nobody in our sphere of social existence is experiencing what we are, we have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses — one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, and a safe person whom we can approach with confidence to receive the mercy and grace we need. (Hebrews 4:16)

We are NEVER alone. We are NEVER forsaken.

We may feel as if we are, but the One who has repeatedly promised, throughout the Scriptures, to never leave us or forsake us, has also said,

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

The book of John ends with a fascinating account of Peter deciding to go fishing, and being joined by a number of other apostles. I’ve often wondered if Peter did this because he was at a loss of what to do next, and so turned to the familiar activity of his earlier life. I definitely can sympathize with this quandary.

But let’s jump ahead to verses 15-24, in which Jesus asks Peter, three times, if he loves Him, and to feed His sheep.

“‘I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then He said to him, ‘Follow me!'”

Peter turned, and upon seeing the disciple whom Jesus loved, asked,

“‘Lord, what about him?’

“Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'”

And therein is the answer to what we are going through, whatever it is — it doesn’t look exactly like what anybody else is going through because it’s part of our path, our future, our walk with Christ, and in all the questions that we ask (and it’s okay to ask Him any question that we have), the ultimate answer is,

“Follow me.”

He walks with us.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Posts complementing this one are

Grasping the Goodness of God

Rich Christian, Poor Christian — Which Are You?

Are Your Dreams, and Your Life, in Perpetual Limbo?

What Kind of Vibes Do We Give Off?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I saw an old photo the other day of a man I never knew. What leapt out from the faded ink and crumpled paper was kindness, a sense of humor, and generosity of spirit. He looked like someone I would like to meet, and given that we are eternal beings, I look forward to the day that we do.

Blossom inspirational original oil painting of woman by flowering fruit tree by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, amazon.com, and vision art galleries

There’s a reason why we are drawn to some people, and recoil from others — and it’s preferable that we ourselves be the first kind of person. Blossom, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Vision Art Galleries, and Amazon.

Interestingly, according to the people who owned the photograph and knew the man, I was right on all my assessments of his character. He was good, kind, loving, warm, compassionate, and full of grace; and those he knew loved him deeply.

Now while it would be easy — and flattering — to say that I was spot-on in my assessment because I am such an excellent judge of character, the truth is that who and what we are comes across more strongly than we think:

“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart,” Jesus says in Luke 6:45.

“For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”

In the Shallows

Christians operating on a shallow level — and there are a lot of them doing this — can easily fall into focusing on a tight, literal interpretation of any Biblical passage: in this one, an argument can be made that the actual words we speak, as in, do we swear, are testimony to whether or not we are Christians. Spoken words, they aver, show what is in our heart, and if we are at all familiar with any socially awkward words that rhyme with “truck,” much less say them aloud, or even think them, then we toss ourselves in that “evil man” category.

Now this isn’t a post about swearing — I touched on that in The Sinless Christian — as it is an essay about external appearances versus internal attributes, or, if you will, the longstanding controversy of following the law versus relying upon grace.

No matter how much we toss about the words grace, mercy, and unconditional love, we struggle, as Christians, with the mistaken notion that the way to righteousness is by following the law — we’ll become better people when we attend church, avoid coffee, dress modestly, don’t get tattoos, arise early for Bible study, obey our pastor, and vote Republican.

Christmas Lights

And while none of these particular strictures can be found in the Old Testament (and most certainly not the New), they’re alive and well in the 21st century, and many believers, in the back of their minds, feel obligated to follow them.

Other Christians do read the Old Testament and take seriously adhering to its laws — not all of them, thankfully — stoning comes to mind — but they pick and choose and impose their dictates upon others.

“What’s your problem with the 10 Commandments?” they demand. “Are you saying that we shouldn’t follow these laws?”

These are great laws, and if any of us were capable of following them, the world would be a better place. And while it’s easy to point at, “Do not murder,” or “Do not misuse the name of the Lord Your God” (“I don’t use profanity”) and put stars on our progress report, things get a little dicey when we talk about coveting our neighbor’s stuff, or forgetting about Mom and Dad, or idolizing Kim Kardashian, George W. Bush, Rand Paul, Bill O’Reilly, or Billy Graham.

But as our fathers moaned years ago when setting up Christmas lights, “When one goes out, they ALL go out!” (technology has solved this problem, hasn’t it?), the law is inflexible:

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2: 10)

Thinking Backwards

But we continue to go about it backwards, convinced that if we keep the rules, we’ll get the prize, when the better solution has been in front of us for 2,000 years:

Into the Surf inspirational original oil painting of woman with child at ocean beach with fabric by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Art.com, Amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

As God’s children, we learn best by imitation and following example. Into the Surf, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, Art. com, Amazon, Great Big Canvas, and iCanvasART.

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-22)

There’s that word, “grace,” again, but what does it mean?

Focus on Christ

How about this:

Don’t focus on following rules, looking good on the outside, clamping your hand over your mouth when the driver in front cuts you off (both hands on the wheel, you know).

Rather, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you,” (James 4:8); seek His kingdom (Matthew 6:33); abide in Him and remain in His love (John 15:4, 9). The more we learn about Christ and His love for the Father, and their love for us, the more we naturally fall into doing what He commands — the most important aspects NOT having anything to do with the length of our beard or whether or not we wear our hair up, but that we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind and we love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22: 37-40)

If our priority is seeking, loving, longing to understand and know more about God, then what we are inside will change, daily, to reflect what we are focusing on, and we truly will bring good things out of the good things stored up in our hearts —

to the point, that when someone looks, years from now, at an old, creased, faded photo of us, they’ll say,

“I want to know that person. There’s something about them that draws me to them.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I always figure I’ll make a mistake, but when I do, I’d rather err on the side grace. And those are the people I’d prefer to be around.

Posts complementing this one are

Grasping the Goodness of God

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Grasping the Goodness of God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

For many years of my young middle adulthood, life was smooth. Not perfect, obviously — when you raise a family of six on one ridiculously modest income, there’s always the stress of making the mandated property tax, insurance payments, and assorted fees involved in living in a “civilized,” bureaucratic regime.

But life was relatively predictable, and God was good.

Enchanted inspirational original oil painting of woman in meadow in green dress by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

The goodness of God is something to bask in, with joy, like warm sun on a spring day. Enchanted, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at art. com, amazon, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

I knew that latter because people were always telling me how good God is, and how much He loves us, and how He is always there to meet our needs. Given that most of our needs were being met adequately through sources considered standard and expected in our society, I really had no need to put my foot on the waters, step off the boat, and see if He would catch me.

But the one constant thing about life is that it never stays the same, and when circumstances blew in, they didn’t leave us much option about stepping off the boat, since they pretty much overturned it and left us hanging on to the sides. At this point, the goodness of God lost it theoretical usance and it became very, very important to know that it is truly real, and something upon which we can depend.

Not Our Default

This is not a concept one learns, accepts, or understands overnight, quite frankly, and it is also not a default setting. Another thing it is also not is something that God blames us, or punishes us, for not having, because,

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4: 15)

That high priest, on the cross, cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46). We don’t have to wrangle theology to accept the simple fact that feeling abandoned by God, bereft, alone, and in despair, is something that Jesus understands.

This is a significant truth that is well worth reflecting upon, because, when you are going through something especially difficult, excruciatingly painful, and inexplicably confounding, you are sure to run into people who have absolutely no idea of what is happening to you (they’re a bit like I was, in my young middle adult years), and they will respond to your angst by saying,

“God is good. You simply must have more faith. Otherwise, how can He help you?”

Our Faith Comes from God

The central message is that He is limited by our lack of faith, not a particularly hopeful piece of intelligence, because — while you can generate an outward appearance of having faith that is realistic looking enough to fool not only others, but yourself (and this is far easier in the good times when there’s no need to call upon it) — that’s all it is, an outward appearance. True faith, true trust, true rest in God is the result of a process.

Romans 12: 2 tells us to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

The Land of Chief Joseph inspirational original oil painting of wallowa mountains and meadow with flowers by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and amazon.com.

The faith to move mountains is not something that we generate within ourselves, but rather, ask God to introduce into our lives and make real. The Land of Chief Joseph, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and amazon.

For grammar fanatics out there, it’s interesting to note that “conform” is in active voice, meaning that we choose to conform, or we don’t; but the renewing of our mind is accomplished by the passive construction of “being transformed” — passive construction, as its name implies, means that we’re not accomplishing the matter directly, but are having it accomplished by someone, in this case, God.

He transforms our minds — and one of the most successful ways this is done is during horrendously difficult circumstances, when the external factors we normally depend upon (a regular paycheck, decent health, or predictable family/friend interaction, for example) implode. I know I am not the only one who has been driven to intense prayer and focused Bible reading in order to learn more about, and connect with, God.

God Outside the Bible

But sometimes, Bible verses aren’t enough — the very succinctness of the words lack, and this is when it’s good to remember Romans 1: 20:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

By looking at the stars, we contemplate His greatness. In the eyes of a child, we see what trust looks like. And in our interactions with others, we see how He honors His promises:

The other day, I let drop a comment to a woman about someone I love who is looking for a job with a particular organization, but can’t get past the singularly unhelpful front desk.

“My brother runs that organization,” she commented. “If you give me the information, I’ll pass it on.”

You can bet that the resume and cover letter were expeditiously placed in her hands. And, now that they are in her hands, I leave them there, trusting to her goodness, integrity, and honor in fulfilling the promise that she made. I do not need to pop by, several times a day, and remind her of this promise — indeed, to do so would be casting aspersion upon her character — and yet, when we pray to God, who tells us through 1 Peter 5: 7,

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you,”

we feel a necessity to remind, plead, cajole, convince, hint, demand, insist — or worse, for those who have fallen for the lies of the prosperity doctrine, to declare, name, claim, speak a word of faith — as opposed to doing the most difficult thing of all, wait, and trust in the goodness of God.

Ask for what you need, and while you’re there, ask for the trust it will take while you await the answer.

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence , so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4: 16)

This is the goodness of God.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I am an ordinary Christian who is the child of an extraordinary God. I write to encourage all ordinary people that we can find God, and live in His love, without having to go through a convoluted hierarchy of churchianity, haplessly dependent upon the teaching and guidance of other human beings.

There are good teachers out there, and it is good to learn what we can, where we can, but always with the knowledge that our ultimate teacher is the Holy Spirit, and He will lead us in the direction we need to go.

Posts complementing this one are

Reading the Bible without Supervision

Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Pray for a Sign

Child of God: You Are Much Beloved

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