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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Is God Keeping You on a Short Leash?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.” (Psalm 139:5)

Have you ever felt as if God were keeping you on a very, very short leash?

Working Trigger inspirational original oil painting of horse whisperer cowboy in meadow by Steve Henderson

Reins are for horses and leashes are for dogs, but the principle is the same — the master is the one in charge of leading, training, and teaching. Working Trigger, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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I know, it’s not a good image, since the primary animals associated with leashes are dogs. The verse above, in Psalms, implies sheep, sent through the chute — again, not a particularly complementary image — but a descriptive one.

Sometimes, in our walk with Christ, our options are very few, and when we seek to turn around, step aside, or hop over an obstacle, we find that we have no room to move but one, and even then, the step allowed is small.

It’s frustrating, or, as the Psalmist continues,

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”

Frankly, “wonderful” isn’t the adjective that immediately comes to mind, but the attendant observation that what God is doing, and how He works in my, and your, and our, lives, is too lofty for us to attain, is oddly comforting. Why?

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We Are Not God

Because we don’t have to understand.

And while it’s vexatious being in the dark, it’s reassuring to know that our lack of understanding isn’t a road block to our moving ahead — we don’t have to — and indeed simply can’t — know everything in order for God to work in and through our lives; we just have to belong to the One Person who does know everything and who, just as importantly, never abandons us, ever:

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” the Psalmist continues

Clouds inspirational original oil painting of meadow and sky by Steve Henderson

Up to the heavens and down to the valleys — we simply cannot find a place where God is not. Clouds, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”

Within our Christian lives, which too often are intertwined with a teaching and doctrine of men that has nothing to do with God’s actual words, we battle with the idea that we are, always, the central problem behind each and every single issue we have:

“You don’t have enough faith,” we are told, or,

“You just need to trust God — your lack of belief in Him is blocking Him,”

or,

“If you’d simply submit and rest in Him, your prayer would be answered.”

“But I AM submitting and resting and waiting and believing and trying my very best!” we cry out, in which case we are informed,

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“Well, you’re trying too hard.”

Well, that’s just really encouraging.

Man’s Teaching Discourages

Men’s words and teachings generally aren’t encouraging, which is why it’s important for each one of us to seek, read, and understand Scripture for ourselves, and Psalm 139, the whole thing, is a great place to spend some time.

The Psalmist begins by recognizing God’s sheer omnipresence and omniscience in his life, acknowledging God’s deep familiarity with all the writer’s ways. It is after these thoughts that the writer mentions being hemmed in, limited, we would say, and while being limited isn’t generally thought of as a positive thing, it’s not so bad if God’s hand on our shoulders keeps us from falling over a cliff, for example, or embarking on a path that leads to a place we ultimately do not want to go.

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In other words, if you find yourself in that most exasperatingly frustrating place of not really being able to move, ANYWHERE, then don’t automatically assume it’s because you’re a Bad Dog, and you need to be leashed up in the yard until you’re a Good One.

Frustrated by Evil

Verses 18-22 of the Psalm express the Psalmist’s frustration with evil people, who speak of God with evil intent, adversaries who misuse His name:

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord, and abhor those who rise up against you?”

(“Aren’t we on the same side, God? Don’t you want me to use the gifts you’ve given me to do something good, to counteract all that bad?”)

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When you find yourself in a hemmed in place, frustrated because you want to go somewhere, DO something to make a difference in this sad, wretched world of ours, do not passively accept the admonition of those whose standard, conventional, and unvarying outlook is vapidly:

“It’s you. Your thoughts are bad and proud and wrong and evil, and God won’t answer your prayers because of this.”

Instead, finish the Psalm, which, after the lament against the wicked, concludes:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The Psalmist knows that, many times but not all the time, we do block things, and in a tremendous step of faith he asks our Father to test those anxious thoughts, bringing the writer to a point of not being an obstacle, if indeed he is. The entire Psalm is a song of trust to our Creator, the one who made us and who knows precisely how we think and who we are, but chooses, with delight, to invite us to walk with Him and do His work, anyway.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage readers to stop focusing on and trying to obey the words of men (the fruit of which, frequently, is discouragement and a sense of being overwhelmed) and instead, seek out — at its source — the words of God.

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Without God, We’ve Got 10 Minutes, Tops

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

I never see this verse without thinking of the AWANA program, regarding which, after 10 long years of heavily participating in it, I still don’t know what the letters stand for. All I remember is prodding very young children into lisping back, by rote, words which meant nothing to them and little to me, so that they could earn a patch, or a star, or whatever the promised reward.

Shades of Turquoise inspirational original oil painting of alpine lake in mountains by Steve Henderson

Everything, from the air we breathe to the mountains and trees and rivers and all who live within their sight, draws its life from God. Shades of Turquoise, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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But these words are, as so many in the book of Genesis, profound, a profundity I see only after leaving the system, and the lisping rote memorization, in exchange for the freedom of walking a very narrow path:

God breathed into man the breath of life.

The act is poetic, it’s transcendent, it’s mystical and mysterious, but it is also prosaically, almost frighteningly straightforward and matter-of-fact: if we don’t breathe, we die.

Three Minutes

Conventional wisdom, and ordinary commonsense, give us about three minutes of no breathing before we pass out and start to pass on, and while yes, there are amazing people who can hold their breath for a long, long time, even they can’t thrive past the 10-minute mark. Without air, on a regular basis and throughout the day, we expire. It’s a truth, an inconvenient one (Al Gore didn’t invent this phrase, by the way), but one difficult to sidestep because even those who are willing to try to stretch and push and break it — and I can’t think of many willing volunteers who aren’t literal lab rats — have to eventually admit defeat.

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And yet, how many of us, throughout the day, consciously breathe? We may do so for a few minutes, which is what you may be doing now because we’ve drawn our attention to the matter, but given enough time, interruptions, and distractions, we all tend to move on with our lives and think about other things. Quite fortunately, our bodies are set up in such a manner that our hearts beat, our stomach digests, and our lungs draw air in and out, without our having to direct it.

The Designer

So . . . Who set up the body so that it works the way it does?

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb,” Psalm 139 extols.

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Dream Catcher inspirational original oil painting of woman with fabric at Zion National Park by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, allposters.com, art.com, framed canvas art and great big canvas

We breathe, and walk, and dance not because we are accidents of chance, but because we are children of God. Dream Catcher, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, and Framed Canvas Art.

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“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Again, we see poetry, but within all good poetry is truth, and the truth here is that our very being was created, shaped, formed, developed, and brought into life by God. Scientism likes to condescendingly chuckle at people who say that God is the author of life, and there are all sorts of promises that in the future, technology will find a way of creating it independent of Deity, but at the moment, getting that next breath doesn’t seem to be an action that any one of us can consciously contrive.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Jesus asks in Luke 12:25. “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

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I don’t know about you, but I had nothing to do with being born, and I don’t have the remotest idea of how much longer I will live, nor the circumstances under which I will die. I certainly don’t consider adding a single hour to my life — whether by worrying or any other means — to be a simple thing, but God does.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:16)

It’s Poetic, but Not Theoretical

My Christian brothers and sisters, statements like these are not just precious words of poetry that we somehow reconcile to our being random creatures, literally landed onto this earth, from the primordial sea, by chance. Either God is telling the truth, and He truly does breathe into us the breath of life, or He does not, but He is not simply writing pretty verse.

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When God writes, or says, something, He speaks truth. Those of us who make seeking and understanding truth a priority can do no better than to consciously pay attention to the Source of it. It may be woven into descriptive, even emblematic language, but it is there, and it is worth meditating upon.

Take a breath. Did you generate it? Are you able to? When you finish this article and go make lunch, will you be able to consciously keep breathing, or at some point will your body, fearfully and wonderfully made, take over? And when it does, why does it work the way it does?

By chance? Because Bill Gates wrote a software program to make it do so (incidentally, software programs do not crawl out of primordial seas)? Because the Queen of England mandated that it be so? Because Stephen Hawking propounded a theory?

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It’s not fashionable, and certainly not savvy or sophisticated, to believe that God exists, that He creates, and that He created us. Nor is it wise, by academic standards, to acknowledge that He gives us breath. But neither is it stupid, or unintelligent, to seek truth in places simply because we are told — by the worshipers of scientism, by the philosophers of fashion, by the movie-makers — that it is not there.

Because somehow, we’re all breathing.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

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The Christians Who Choose to Leave “Church”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Hebrews 13:13

If you’ve ever done anything in contrast to the status quo, you’ve no doubt been shot with criticism by those who remain in the group, and are appalled that you would dare to leave.

The Traveler inspirational original charcoal drawing of young woman in Paris France near the Eiffel Tower by Steve Henderson

Throughout life, we travel a unique path, directed by God, that will take us to unusual places if we’ll only trust our Father enough to follow it. The wide path leads to the shopping mall. The Traveler, original charcoal by Steve Henderson.

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Homeschoolers are a great example. We smiled our way, graciously, through years of comments from family, friends, and strangers, all of whom attributed any adverse behavior in our children to our decision to teach them away from the publicly funded herd.

“This wouldn’t have happened if they had been in a normal school,” we were told.

Now that the kids are all grown and, unlike many of their peers, extremely avid and competent readers, no one comments on this. (We even had someone, a teacher no less, go so far as to observe, “While I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that most homeschoolers are academically excellent, what about the socialization?”

Exactly.)

Being Different, Acceptably

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In our highly homogenized, mass media controlled society, different is aberrant, unique is abnormal, distinctive is deviant, and if you want to express yourself, we are told, then do so in an accepted way, through that year’s “revolutionary” clothes styles, or by reading the book that everyone else is reading because Hollywood is making a three-part movie on it (oops, four parts — the lucrative trend is to split the last book into two films).

So it is with the increasing number of Christians who are choosing to leave the conventional, weekly multiple-group-meeting situation that we have mistakenly come to associate with the word “church,” and strike out on their own — whether it’s through a genuine small group assembling in someone’s home or, like our particular family, nothing fixed at all.

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Despite criticism unrelentingly leveraged upon us, unconventionally independent Christians (for lack of a better name) do indeed focus on “how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” and most decidedly, do “not give up on meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Our meetings are simply not in a culturally-accepted, top-down controlled, environment.

There is no commandment to Christians that we shalt attend regular weekly meetings in a fixed physical place, in association with prescribed denominational entities that propound “correct doctrine.”

If anything, we would be better off listening to Stephen, ascribed as being the first Christian martyr, who earned this distinction by speaking truth to people highly reluctant to hear it, and remember that, “The Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.'” (Acts 7:48-49)

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Facebook Flak

The quote at the head of this essay, Hebrews 13:13, struck my eye during a Facebook conversation that made a distinction between Christianity and church attendance, and as was expected, the writer received flak for his position, with Hebrews 10:25 predictably trotted out as the major argument for his abandoning his stance and crawling cravenly back into the pews.

Opalescent Sea inspirational original oil painting of ocean waves by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, allposters.com, amazon.com, framed canvas art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas

God is not confined to any building, creed, or denominational doctrine. Opalescent Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas.

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In our brief online interaction, the writer mentioned to me Hebrews 13:13, which, in my reply, I mistakenly attributed to the apostle Paul until I took the 15 seconds I should have initially to look up the source of the verse (Note to independent individuals: do not make mistakes, ever. You will be flogged for them and told that the reason you make them is because you homeschool. Or give birth at home. Or avoid genetically modified food. Or sleep in on Sundays.)

The context of Hebrews 13:13 is an exhortation by the writer to trust God, remember those who are hurting, live honorably, and make our sacrifices not those of human ceremony, but those that focus on doing good and sharing with others.

“We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat,” the writer says in verse 13:10.

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“The high priest carries the blood of the animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” (Verses 11-13)

The disgrace Jesus bore was exacerbated by his being rejected by His own people — “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)

Shunned by the Group

The perfect Jew in every way, Jesus was spurned, shunned, and sent to the cross by leaders in the religious establishment, and the irony is that the very people responsible for shepherding and teaching God’s word, totally missed seeing the Writer of it.

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This is not to say that all leaders are bad — Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea come to mind — nor does it by association lead to the conclusion that the conventional church, and those who lead and attend it, are bad or wrong. What it does say is that convention, and the status quo, are not correct simply because they have always been that way, and those who decide upon a different path are not automatically apostates, or fools.

These are the Christians who are questioning church policy, asking where a particular doctrine can be found in Scripture, and increasingly, ultimately determining to leave. In doing so, they are out of the camp, away from the group, and a major result in their lives is being viewed with suspicion, censure, and disdain, if they speak up; ignored, if they don’t.

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One might observe that we are disgraced.

So were the first Christians, who left the establishment of their day to strike out to follow this wild, radical man who was rejected and cursed. But they persevered in this new Way, this Way that all believers are called to seek out and follow — whether or not we attend a “real” church.

It’s not where we are on Sunday morning. It’s how we live — and for Whom — all week long.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my heart goes out to my brothers and sisters who are choosing an extremely narrow, difficult, but highly fulfilling, path.

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Are We Making Asses of Ourselves?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:9)

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “The Perfect Will of God.”

As used within Christian circles, it sounds like it’s written, with capitals at the head of each word. Generally, it’s uttered with a sense of fear — not the reverent kind — because the primary impression is that if we don’t do things exactly right, if we don’t hear and obey God’s every personalized word (which aren’t audible to the majority to us, incidentally; nor does He write Post-It notes and leave them on our refrigerator door), then we will miss this Perfect Will of God for our lives and will Mess Up.

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Three Horses inspirational original oil painting of horses in mountain meadow by Steve Henderson

We are human beings, children of God, and we can learn from His voice in a way that an animal never can. Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

And God will be angry with us — as He frequently is in 21st century conventional establishment Christianity. As punishment for our not following His words that we begged to hear but couldn’t quite catch, He’ll not bother with us, or turn His back on us, or leave us to struggle through the ramifications of our lamentable decisions.

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The general result, for many Christians facing a decision — big or little — is that they don’t do anything at all, because, they reason, it’s better to make no decision than the wrong one.

We all have known more than one Christian who has agonized between A? or B? or B? or A? prostrating themselves on the floor in tormented prayer begging God to speak to them, please, and let them know which way to go. This perversity on the part of their god is inexcusable in light of Christ’s encouragement in Matthew 7:7-12 that we ask, seek, and knock and we will receive, find, and have the door opened to us:

Bad Parenting

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Christ asks rhetorically. “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

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Or if he asks a question, fervently and anxiously, will pretend to not hear him at all? Such is the behavior we attribute to God — who is justified in doing so, we say, because He is chronically offended by us — but this attitude is at variance with Christ’s conclusion,

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

The Blue Poncho inspirational original oil painting of girl and baby goat by Steve Henderson

Our good shepherd does not leave us to wander around fields alone, without His guidance. The Blue Poncho, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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The quote at the head of this chapter is from the 32nd Psalm by David, who begins the work with the ringing praise,

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

One wonders how many Christians would feel free to stand up and say, “I’m that man! (or woman) God does not count my sins against me!”

Accepting God’s Acceptance

It’s a promise we have difficulty believing, especially because we have a lamentable habit — as humans — of not being perfect, something that we hold against ourselves but God does not, any more than we reject a three-year-old for being too selfish to purchase for us a birthday present.

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When we hyper-focus on The Perfect Will of God, a concept that is not found, in the Bible, the way we misapply it (nope, not Romans 12:2 — read the verse, and the one before it along with a few after it, without the prescriptive attitude concerning TPWoG), then we are frozen into inaction, dependent upon step-by-step, moment by moment directions, for everything we say and do.

In short, we are asking to be like a horse or mule, unable to think for ourselves based upon information we are given, choosing, instead, to let God do all the thinking without any input on our part. It reminds me of the Hebrew people in the desert during the Exodus, when they saw and heard God’s might on the mountain and they trembled in fear:

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“They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'” (Exodus 20:19)

Looking Anywhere but Toward God

Lamentably, we can have much the same attitude today, when we look to our pastor to interpret Scripture for us, or follow an author’s every piece of advice because he “speaks for God,” or worship, literally worship, another human being because of his “godliness.” It’s much easier to look to someone else, more “in tune with God,” to lead us than it is for us to turn directly to our Father Himself, and trust that, in His guidance of us, He takes into account our frailty.

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“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” This verse of comfort is the one prior to the horse sentence, and it is an assurance that,

1) God won’t abandon us to depend upon our own limited ability to understand, because He does and will teach us,

but

2) In His teaching of us, the goal is that we learn, and in learning, we are able to participate more fully in the decision-making process. Every first-grade teacher has the goal that his or her students will take the alphabet and the phonics and eventually turn them into reading, and only a very bad, impatient, and insecure teacher would punish a budding reader for messing up on a word.

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God is far and away the best first grade, high school, and post collegiate teacher any of us could ever dream of having. And He isn’t teaching horses.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. One of the most damaging misconceptions we battle as Christians today is the concept that God really does not like us, and is constantly finding fault with everything we think or do. That’s pretty lousy parenting.

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