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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

5 Blessings You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Enjoy

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sunshine is so much a part of our everyday existence that we easily take it for granted. Can you imagine life without the sun? Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Years ago, I spoke with a new mom about being lonely, and mentioned that I had experienced my share of that painful condition.

“Oh, I’m not LONELY!” she shot back, as if we were discussing leprosy or something.

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You get the same reaction when you admit, “I would love to have a little more money, just to make things easier, you know.”

“Oh, I never pray for MONEY!” insecure Christians counter in alarm.

We All Worry about Money

Oh, come on, people — of course you pray for money. If it weren’t such a pressing need in our lives Jesus wouldn’t have told us not to worry about what we eat, drink, or wear (all of which require money) in Matthew 6: 31.

That being said, many of us have more than we think we do, especially in wealthier countries. And while it’s tempting to pray for enough money that we never have to worry about paying for anything again, we forget that we have access to some very precious treasures that cost little, or nothing. It’s worth recognizing their existence and being grateful:

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It’s up There Every Single Day

1) The sun. Yes, I spelled that right — that great big golden orb lights up the day for everyone, and no matter how greedy some people get, they can’t restrict sunlight from the rest of us and keep it all to themselves:

“(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5: 45.

The sun’s received a bad rap these last few years, and many people stay out of it or slather on a chemical concoction before darting from their home to their car. But the next time you’re outside, close your eyes, feel the warmth on your face, and be glad for something so big that we all can share it. Too many of the good gifts God intended for His creation to enjoy are grabbed and hoarded by a few.

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Meant to Give Us Pleasure

2) Food. This is one of those good gifts that are grabbed and hoarded by a few — if not the food itself, then the means to purchase enough to feed oneself and one’s family, and thereby live a dignified existence.

If you have enough food that you eat multiple times a day and are satisfied, then be very, very grateful. In many families, it is tradition to “say grace” before a meal, but this can quickly become a meaningless rote. The next time, and every time, you eat, truly mean the words you express, and pray for those who don’t have enough. Then take the next step, and ask God what you can do to help someone who isn’t getting enough to eat.

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We can’t know all 7 billion of us, but we all have special relationships with special people. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

God intended food to be a regular blessing for all of us, and His consistent promise to the Israelites was that He would ” . . . bring them up out of (Egypt) into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  (Exodus 3: 8)

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Our People

3) Family and friends. The word “dysfunctional” is bandied about so generously these days that we forget that family is a good thing: our tribe, unique to each one of us, is there to love, support and care for for its members:

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” 1 Timothy 5: 8 tells us. Each one of us has individuals within our lives that we act with on a special basis: we are a father, a mother, daughter, son, niece, grandson, cousin, friend.

One of the worst things about being obscenely rich, famous, and influential is the uncertainty of really knowing who truly loves you, just because you’re you, and who acts like they love you because you’re fabulously rich, famous, and influential.

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Rest

4) A good night’s sleep. People in chronic pain or poor health, or those under severe anxiety, know the gift that sleep can bring:

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety,” Psalm 4: 8 says.  When I pray for people, one of the first, and most frequent, items on the list is a good night’s sleep. If you got one last night, take a moment, close your eyes, and thank God.

One God, Available to All

5) Access to God. All of us can cry to God and be assured that we are heard:

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me,” Psalm 50: 15 promises. Psalm 34: 6 is a variation comforting to those of us not in the 1 percent:

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“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him.”

Because God made everything and owns it all, He is not impressed by power, name, academic degrees, awards, money, appearances, or the number of people on your social media sites: “God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2: 11)

Let’s say your prayers were answered, and 10 million dollars, tax-free, dropped into your bank account. Which of the five preceding items would you be willing to give up to get it?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I got a phenomenal night’s sleep a few days ago. I love my noisy, quirky, chaotic family; ate muffins for breakfast; and swung in the hammock this weekend, the sun warming my skin.

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But most precious of all is that God is in my life: He loves quirky, chaotic me enough to stretch and pull and hold and love me moment by moment.

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When Our Dreams Never Come True

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Dreams are living, vibrant things, like flowers, and trees, that have a season and a time, and they’re always changing. But they’re alive. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

From the time we are schoolchildren, we are regularly assured,

“You can be anything you want to be. Just dream it, and it will come true.”

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Do an Internet search on “following your dreams” and you’ll come up with everything from Dream Believe Achieve (or, Dream Believe Receive for the Christian version) to You Can Do It! Just Believe! (Christian version: God Will Do It! Just Believe!)

We all have dreams, desires, hopes, and aspirations — part of being made in the image of God is that we desire to create, just like our Father. The significant difference between us and Him is that while He creates out of nothing, we create under His guidance, teaching, and direction:

“To a man belong the plans of the heart,” Proverbs 16: 1 tells us, “but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue,” and in 16: 9, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

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God Is Involved in Our Dreams

These verses take us beyond inane reassurances that Belief alone, and enough of it, will lead us to our goal, because even as schoolchildren we say to ourselves,

“I want to do this impossible thing, but how?”

Only believe! just doesn’t cut it, although if you watch too much TV and read too many You Can Do It! books, you will consistently belabor under the impression that things aren’t working out because of you, somehow.

“What, specifically, am I supposed to believe in?” is a valid question. “In me? In some power within me? In my influence with God? If it’s God I believe in, then aren’t I supposed to trust that He knows best what to do with my life, including my dreams?”

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God Really Isn’t Irritable

On the other end of the spectrum, if the god you serve is the impatient, destructive, irritated being that too many Christians mistake for God, you don’t even bother having dreams, because your substitute has his own plan, and he’ll squeeze you into it, no matter how painful it is to you.

“God wants you out of your comfort zone!” is the sing-song response by some shallow creature stomping on your pearls — your aching, longing dream — which isn’t coming true.

Let’s shoot that sentence and bury it once and for all, okay?

Following our dreams is a dance that involves letting God lead, because,

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“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.” (Psalm 37: 23-24)

A Valid Question

So now the valid question is: “How do I know if the Lord delights in my way?”

When we allow God to direct our steps, we can walk with confidence on the path set before us, because we’re not walking it alone. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART.

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Excellent question. One of the reasons it frequently takes so long to achieve our dreams is because the dreams, and the dreamers, need finessing. Back to Proverbs 16, verse 2:

“All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

In the rare moments when we are truly honest with ourselves, and God, we admit that we want that position at work not just because we can help more people (which is the reason we give to God), but also because we’ll get a hefty salary increase and its attendant social distinction. Or we seek additional speaking engagements not only because we have a message about God’s love and acceptance we want our hearers to hear (God version) but because we want more hearers so that the people who said we were losers in high school would be proven wrong, if only in our minds.

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A Pure Heart Is Priceless — and It Protects Us

It’s not wrong to pray for the job position or the speaking engagements, but if God grants them to us while our heart is divided about why we want them, you can bet that our negative motives will overshadow our positive ones. We mean too much to God to be spoiled.

“You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want,” James 4: 2 tells us.

“You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”

If you’re like me, you are convinced, that within your dreams, you have the right motives, but the waiting period — which seems so fruitless and exasperating — is a time to continually draw before Him, learn from Him, and allow him to bring about the renewing of our minds (Romans 12: 2) that purifies our heart — so that it is not damaged by the additional temptations that accompany the fulfillment of God’s answer.  Part of “directing our steps” is keeping them side by side with His, and this involves — moment by moment — submitting our will, and our dreams, into His hands.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I find great comfort in knowing that my primary job, on this earth, is to trust God, and that He will direct the outcome. While it’s hard to trust, it’s feasible, which is more than can be said about tapping into non-existent internal power — or worse, tapping into very existent power that does not draw from God.

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Four Lies Creeping into Today’s Christian Church

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In the shadows, all sorts of things can lurk. We must use the light we have available to us to truly see. Moonlit Night on the Coppei, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Apostasy is nothing new in Christianity. Two thousand years ago Jesus warned that false prophets “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7: 15)

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Given that we, the people of God, are frequently referred to as sheep, the term “sheep’s clothing” imparts the disquieting concept that these false prophets will inveigle their way into the church itself, potentially fooling the saints (Matthew 24: 24).

According to the apostle Peter, false teachers arise not only in the general populace (“among the people”) but in the church as well (“among you”). Peter is scathing in his commentary:

“They will secretly introduce destructive heresies . . . In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.” (2 Peter 2: 1, 3)

Some Things Never Change

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While these words were written two thousand years ago, some things never change, and many of Satan’s appealing lies just never go away. They just remove the robe and put on a suit. Here are four we are battling today:

Riches

1) God wants you to be rich! Advocates of the prosperity doctrine assert that true Christians are wealthy Christians.  Through an interesting twisting of Scripture, they convince followers that God proves His love by bestowing material gifts:

“How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7: 11) and “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land.”

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Aside from deliberately misinterpreting the word, “gifts,” these teachers noticeably avoid verses like:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” (Matthew 5: 6), or

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16: 24)

A cursory reading of the Bible emphasizes that God wants our hearts and obedience, and while the one thing He gives us, unconditionally, is love — money’s not guaranteed. Christ Himself claimed no place to lay His head at night: why would the Father withhold from His Son the material blessings He is apparently obligated to shower upon us?

Power

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2) You have the power, in your mind, to change your life! Theoretically, because the Holy Spirit lives in Christians, we can “tap into” this power, if only we know the right words, methods, and incantations, all of which are taught through various authors’ books.

We’re much smaller, and weaker, and defenseless than we think we are. Bold Innocence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART

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The power to be like God — because this is what this teaching promises — goes back to Eden:

The serpent said, “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3: 4)

God will not abdicate His absolute power to any of His creatures, including us, who demand, declare, proclaim, announce, aver, assure, and insist that He do what we say. This includes “visualizing” the answer to your prayer — it doesn’t matter how hard you believe that a rock will fly, your mind can’t make it do so. If it does fly, you didn’t do it, and think twice before you drag God into it. There is one other person in the garden, however, who is always happy to oblige.

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Failure

3) You are the sum of your choices, and what you become in life is ultimately up to you. We all make bad choices, and we manage a few good ones in there as well, but if we are dependent upon the outcome of our choices to make or break our lives, we’re screwed.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,” God tells us in Isaiah 30: 15.

The apostle Paul hurt a whole lot of people before his conversion; Peter denied His Lord three times; Abraham, the great Patriarch, lied, twice, about Sarah being his sister or his wife; Isaac repeated the same lie a generation later, with his wife Rebekah.

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All of these bad choices should have resulted in bad lives, but God’s intervention and guidance brought about mercy and redemption. So it is with all of us, my friends: overcoming our bad choices doesn’t depend upon our strength, but God’s.

Self

4) The lack of self-esteem is a huge problem in people’s lives: if we can’t love ourselves, how can we love others?

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 1 – 12 is distinctly lacking in encouraging us to lift ourselves up — rather, we find blessing in being poor in spirit, meek, mournful, merciful, pure, and seeking after God. Ironically, it is through pain — physical, mental, and environmental — that we draw closer to God, because otherwise, when things are going fine and we’re enjoying all those material blessings we’re told we deserve to demand, we don’t need God.

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As St. Augustine said, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

You don’t have to focus on yourself first, before you focus on others, and indeed, if it were a requisite, then Christ would have quoted three most important commandments, as opposed to two.

The best lie is mostly truth, with just a hint of falsehood cleverly woven throughout. Good lies are also appealing, because otherwise, why would we believe them? Anytime we focus our goals on money, position, or security, we set up a false God in the place of the real one.

“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5: 21)

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage people to seek God’s truth by reading His Word — you can’t spot a lie, unless you know the truth.

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Are We Stuck with Our Bad Choices Forever?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sometimes, we wonder if we will have to die before we achieve forgiveness from the things we have done. All it takes is repentance, before God, and while consequences may remain, grace covers a multitude of pain. Iglesia Colombiana, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Tough love.

It’s an oxymoronic — or maybe just moronic — psychological phrase that has crept its way into Christian thought. We’ve been told it’s the solution to codependent relationships, another psychophrase bandied about more frequently than words like grace, mercy, charity, patience, or perseverance, and Christians instruct one another that when people make bad choices, well, they’ve got to live with them, and it’s part of our tough love stance to make them see the light.

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(I’m not sure what that light is, in this particular case, but I’d guess it has little to do with the True Light of the World.)

Wisdom from Facebook

Recently, I found a meme wandering through my Facebook account, from new age guru Greg Braden:

“Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It’s not your parents, past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument, or your age that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and choice that you make. Period.”

Gosh this sounds tough and cool and hip and witty and wise, and to a certain extent, it expresses truth:

Proverbs 1: 7 tells us that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Fools make bad choices, not because they don’t read the right self-help books, but because the don’t listen to the One Person who is Wise:

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“A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps.

“A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless.” (Proverbs 14: 15-16)

We All Make Foolish Choices

Read through Proverbs and you get a strong desire, pretty fast, to not be a fool, because things don’t look too good for them. Humans being humans, however, we all, at some point — before we were Christians and realistically after we are Christians — make bad choices. Some of these choices cause collateral damage in many lives, other choices wound only us, but all of them are regrettable and — This Is Life — result in consequences we have to wade through.

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We get frustrated with whining, whimpering, grumbling people who do stupid things and don’t want to live through the results of them. Years of society focusing upon self-image, self-esteem, self-assurance, and self-regard (a message preached as strongly in Christian circles as it is in secular ones) have left us irritated with people’s unwillingness to accept the consequences for their actions, so when a quote like Braden’s shows up, it’s not surprising that it’s reposted by Christians.

“Yeah! Tough love, at last,” we tell ourselves.

Mercy Trumps Judgment

Our disgruntlement and sense of vindication is understandable, but before we get too adamant about people getting what they deserve, we might consider that judgment is not complete without mercy, and some of us — notably every one of us who has submitted our life to Christ — have benefited from understanding, compassion, and mercy that we decidedly do not deserve:

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Isaiah 1: 18 assures us that, though our sins are ask scarlet, they will be white as snow. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and iCanvasART

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful, Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2: 12)

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Yes, there are consequence to all of our choices, good and bad. Any woman who has stared at the plus sign on a pregnancy test knows that the outcome of one, single choice is a lifetime reminder of that moment. Watching one of these lifetime reminders, 18-months-old at the time, shunned by good Christian people at a potluck, I thought,

“It’s bad enough that they’ll never forgive the mother of the child. But what did the child do, other than be born?”

God Rules, by God’s Rules

In answer to the question in the title, your choices will affect your life, but be encouraged, when you let Him, God rules your life: He brings good out of bad (Romans 8: 28), and while the process of getting to the right place may be painful, God’s desire isn’t to see you squirm, but to repent, and follow Him.

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As Christians, it’s important that we seek truth and guide our lives by good sources, and while seminar speakers can pump out the Facebook memes, we might think twice, or three or four times, before we repost these statements, or worse, adopt them as maxims to our lives.

Secular thought, seminar thought, New Age thought — it dances lightly around the truth but stomps on the fullness of wisdom because it does not, and will not, acknowledge the existence of God, and any wisdom that excludes God, is not wisdom but witticism.

“For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Corinthians 1: 25)

How’s that for a Facebook meme?

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I like a funny saying as much as the next person. I just take a moment after I laugh to ask myself, “Is this true? Are my eyes so blinded by the mis-information and dis-information of the society in which I live, to accept partial truth as complete?”

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