Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Is It Enough — Just to Believe?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There is a sense of peace and joy in believing in a good, gracious, merciful, loving, compassionate, understanding God. Blossom, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

I’ll be the first to admit that I make things too complicated, and as an astute and thoughtful reader wrote me about a recent article, The Kingdom of Heaven — How Do We Get There?,

“Isn’t it enough just to believe?”

I would say that he stopped me cold if I hadn’t already been sitting, and his point was that, In Acts 16: 30-31 the jailer in charge of the apostle Paul and Silas asked them,

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

My correspondent wrote: Paul and Silas “did not say change your life, or walk with God, or submit to Him and follow where He leads you. They said ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.’ It’s that simple — why make it any harder than it has to be?”

Good question, and in my pitiful defense I point out that Paul and Silas’s answer is post-Jesus-on-earth, and I was discussing the things Jesus flat out told us, like becoming as a little child (Matthew 18: 2) and why this is important, but the point is well made,

Is it enough — Just to Believe?

Yes

And the short answer is, yes.

John 3: 16 is quoted so often, that we almost don’t hear the words when we say them:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

There is nothing in this verse that implies we have to believe in a certain manner, or at a certain depth, or with a total intellectual understanding of the background of why we believe: we just have to believe. It’s enough.

And that really bothers some people:

“Believing isn’t enough! Taking something on faith without fully understanding it is stupid, just stupid!”

Parsing Belief

Maybe, maybe not. Some people’s level of faith is simpler than others, and they don’t need to understand quantum physics in order to acknowledge the existence of the stars. They don’t need to know how their car works in order to drive it. And they don’t need massive amounts of historical, apologetic, or theological information to believe that Christ walked on the earth, sacrificed His perfect self because nothing we can do is enough to satisfy God’s goodness, and freely gives eternal life to everyone who asks Him for it.

Others require more before they believe, but ultimately, it is the belief that saves them. Perhaps it’s why followers of Christ are called, “believers.”

Just because a person’s belief is uncomplicated and simple does not mean that it lacks deep thought. Gathering Thoughts, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

My own belief in Jesus came about when I was 19, sitting on my college dormitory bed. Raised Catholic, I had this idea that Jesus was one of the saints — less than Peter, greater than Joseph, roughly equal with John — but once I understood who He was — the Son of God, I prayed:

“I believe you. I believe in You. Take my life.”

And I was saved.

The Four Spiritual (Man Made) Laws

Only, in accordance with contemporary establishment evangelical Christianity, I wasn’t, because as we all learn when we get plugged into the system, you have to say the Four Spiritual Laws, a series of man made injunctions, pulled from throughout Scripture, that insist we must admit, acknowledge and understand our sinful nature before we give our lives to Christ.

I hadn’t done that!

So, like many other Christians, I prayed the “Sinner’s Prayer,” just to make sure that I got this right, and because I wasn’t fully sure I prayed it right the first, second, third, fourth, and 35th time, I prayed it every time it was offered, until I woke up to the fact that this was a level of superstition no better than insisting there is no 13th floor in a 40-story hotel.

My belief, my initial belief, was enough.

God Builds on Our Initial Belief

As we walk in our Christian life, we grow — in understanding, wisdom, perception, discernment, intellect, trust, faith, and love — because the Father teaches us, but every step we take still requires belief. Sometimes it is difficult for us to believe what God is teaching us, and when this is so, we feel that God disapproves of us and our lack of faith.

This is why reading the Bible is such an important part of the Christian life: not because God will be angry and wrathful and dreadful and irritable because we don’t, but because there is truth there that will free us from our misconceptions:

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9: 24 describes a father, desperate for the healing of his son, who expressed misgivings that Jesus could actually do anything.

It is very very simple, and very very difficult, to believe, and this father’s prayer is a beautiful one, because it is universal. Did Jesus reject the man because of his unbelief? Did he send the child away?

No. He answered the prayer.

Is it enough — just to believe?

Yes, it is.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, and thank you, Robert, for contacting me privately and expressing your thoughts. You were gracious, polite, reasonable, and insistent, and your words stopped me, and made me think.

That’s what we do as believers, isn’t it? It’s not whether we attend a church or not, it’s that we fellowship with, pray for, communicate with, and challenge one another, in love, because we are all growing up and running the race.

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Newly published, my book The Misfit Christian (paperback and digital at Amazon.com), for my brothers and sisters who feel like they just don’t fit in, and are tired of wondering what is wrong with them.

 

The Kingdom of Heaven — How Do We Get There?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When we’re very young, we can’t even walk on our own. Children are a visual reminder that we are not mighty mountains of strength and wisdom, completely in charge of our destiny. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

How to get to heaven is a piece of information that from the beginning of time, humanity has wanted to know. The rich young ruler of Matthew 19:16 – 29 (Mark 10: 17 – 30, Luke 18: 18 – 30) asked Jesus,

“What good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Nicodemus, a religious leader, visited Jesus secretly at night and circumspectly touched upon the topic, something that should comfort the rest of us ordinary, non-leadership type people, because as Jesus observed,

“You are Israel’s teacher . . . and  do you not understand these things?” (John 3: 10)

(Remember this the next time an assertive, confident bastion of the Christian faith tells you how to live your life and where to send your money.)

Are There Instructions?

Why didn’t Jesus just flat out tell us what to do? we quite sensibly ask.

Well, He did flat out tell us a number of things, many of which we avoid doing (“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” – Luke 6: 46), and one of the many issues Christ addressed was the kingdom of heaven, and what it takes to get there:

“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 2)

Ah, something concrete we can do — become like a little child. Only, like any major change in our life, it’s not a task we accomplish on our own without God’s hand in ours: we don’t awake in the morning and say,

“I’m going to be like a little child! I’ll start by staying in bed until mom calls me down for breakfast.”

What is it about children that differentiates them from adults? Let’s look at three things, real quick:

The Least of These

1) They’re vulnerable. Children need to be protected, and they know this. They look to someone stronger, wiser, and bigger than they are. (Before we mention the word “authority,” please note that there is a huge difference between a parent and a policeman, between God and the government. Make sure you put your trust in the right power.) We need our Father to guide us, teach us, hold us, and fight for us.

Man’s first home was in a garden, protected and safe, in close companionship with his Creator. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Also available as a licensed, open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

There’s nothing wrong with being weak — we all are. It’s only tragic when we think we’re alone, on our own, and fully dependent upon me, myself, and I, something that is not so:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” God tells the Apostle Paul, and us, in 2 Corinthians 12: 9). Yes, you’re weak. But thank God, He is strong.

It’s the Best Policy

2) They’re honest.  The most disconcerting thing about children is that they speak their minds, and a critical aspect of “educating” them is to conform those minds to think and say what the adult — corporate, political, financial, controlling — world wants to hear. By that time, they have moved into and accepted our language of deceit, where we call the Ministry of War the Department of Defense, mandatory taxation a “contribution to society,” or the taking of life the freedom of choice.

When we are constantly guarding our words so that we won’t be attacked, is it any wonder we have trouble coming before God, and honestly pouring out our hearts?

Jeremiah, often disparagingly called the “weeping prophet,” was remarkably outspoken before God –

“You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice . . .” (Jeremiah 12: 1)

“Shockingly candid,” is one description I have read of Jeremiah. Isn’t he just putting into words what many of us already think? Sort of like what a child would do?

Pride Bloats Our Souls

3) They’re humble. Children are small, physically weak in comparison to adults, and powerless. God designed children to be under the protection of loving parents (not the state), and secure in the safety of the home where they can grow. Look at a kitten, a puppy, a baby goat, a fawn — we accept that these animals were born into and need the protection of their parent, and that they learn from that parent.

We all know how hard it is to teach someone who is convinced that they know the lesson already, and their mistaken confidence in themselves and their abilities keeps them from actually learning. While this swaggering attitude is highly prized in modern society (we call it self-assurance, and that’s not such a bad appellation), God calls us to a different confidence:

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” (1 John 5: 14). God isn’t interested in how much we think of ourselves, but in how much we trust in Him. He wants us to ask.

Children are smarter than what we give them credit for — if the young child in your life is averse to spending time around your new business partner,  you might think twice about the business relationship. The very innocence of young children enables them to identify, and recoil from, well camouflaged evil in others. They also gravitate toward goodness. As we become more like children ourselves, we will do this as well.

And then we are on our way to the kingdom of heaven.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I see daily a growing difference between true Christianity — which we can all find in the Bible — and the teachings of those who pronounce themselves spiritual and religious leaders.

Christianity is the only spiritual offering that does not require a human middleman, a guru, a teacher, or an interpreter. Every single human being has instant access to Jesus by simply crying out to Him. Do this, my friend. Submit to Christ alone, and walk where He leads you.

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How to Be Great, Important, and Significant

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Great in the world’s eyes, or the kingdom of heaven’s? We can’t have both. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas art and other online retailers.

I love reading about the disciples. They’re so refreshingly human, constantly expressing fear and doubt and selfish ambition. One of the greatest gifts the Bible gives us is that it’s written honestly, and doesn’t — like we do — provide false impressions of who people are and what they’re like.

Luke 9: 46- 48 tells us that,

“An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.”

A statement like this is so much more convincing than, “George Washington stood before his father and said, ‘I cannot tell a lie. I chopped the cherry tree down.’” Similar “inspiring” stories are fed to us hourly through magazines, newspapers, text books, movies, talk shows and documentaries, with very little mention of this great statesman forgetting to leave a tip to the hardworking waiter who put up with him and his entourage, or that fine religious leader demanding to know why the sales of his latest book are down.

And we call the Bible a bunch of mythological stories.

He Knows Our Thoughts

But back to Luke:

“Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.”

While it’s disconcerting, it also good to know that our thoughts are no secret to God, and when we are more focused on the world around us than we are on Him, those thoughts tend to run the wrong way — Genesis 6:5 tells us that “every inclination of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil all the time.”

As Christians, we insist that we’re past all that, because we belong to Christ and not the world, but the stories of the disciples are a refreshing reminder that we fight, constantly, an extremely powerful human nature. Overcoming it is not something we can do on our own, the same way that coming to Christ in the first place, and being saved by grace, is not something we managed to accomplish with any brilliance on our part.

We Worship the Wrong Things

We seek for, and worship, the wrong things. In the case of the disciples, they wanted to know which one of them was the most important, and anyone who asserts, wide-eyed, that he never thinks this sort of thing is either lying or, more likely, not thinking.

“”What were you arguing about on the road?’” Jesus asked them in the companion account in Mark 9: 33. But the disciples kept quiet because they were embarrassed. As are we all, when we’re caught in the act.

Don’t the important things in life consistently and constantly wrap around people? Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

Jesus said to them, “Whoever welcome this little child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all — he is the greatest.” (Luke 9: 48)

If you have ever wondered how to be great, important, and significant, therein lies the answer, and like all of God’s wisdom, it runs contrary to ours. Anyone who spends a significant amount of time around children knows that they’re not in boardrooms, not in courtrooms (except as innocents, pawns in a game), not plotting out the death and destruction of more children, and their mothers, and their fathers. The lives of children, and the things that are important to them, are not important in the mighty world of men.

God Protects the Weak

And neither are the people who spend a lot of time caring for children — parents come to mind. Those who stay at home to care for their children are dredges on society; those whose paycheck feeds them are assured that the work they do in the cubicle is of far more importance than soothing a toddler’s nightmare.

Children are time consuming, noisy, messy, and discomfitingly honest. In the Emperor’s New Clothes, it was a child who pointed out that the leader was naked. When there is a child in the room, the adults have to behave more like, well, adults, because a child is vulnerable, and even the most selfish among us knows that we must slow down — it is our duty to be patient, kind, not self-seeking, not delighting in evil. There is someone smaller and weaker than we are, and it’s time to forget about making more money for awhile, and protect that small, precious person. Some of the most important people in the world are incapable of doing this.

Satan hates children, which is why, in the world of which he is prince, he encourages us to abort them, demean them, remove them from their homes and make them wards of the state, control them, drug them so that they sit quietly behind a desk for hours and fill out workbook pages, sell them on the open market for the puerile pleasures of sick, sick men.

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones.” (Matthew 18: 19)

Rather, humble yourself to be like one of them, and you will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Now, how you ever sat through a Success Seminar that gave you advice like that?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I have spent my professional career (I was a homemaker who homeschooled) around children. It doesn’t matter where you work, or what you do, but it does matter, very much, how you interact with the world’s Least of These.

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The Power of Doubt

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Doubt is an element in any thought process or belief system, and rather than deny it, it’s best to work through it. Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Great Big Canvas.

Doubt is not so much a sin as it is a problem, and like most problems, it’s best to solve it, as opposed to letting it be a part of our continued existence.

Too often, when a Christian asks a question about God’s goodness, or His ability, or His trustworthiness, the response from others in the room is one of alarm and chastisement:

“Trust in the Lord always! He is good! Amen and amen! Praise Jesus!”

And . . . end of conversation. Whatever provoked or caused the doubt in the Christians’s heart and words hasn’t been addressed, and all we’ve really gotten across is that you, as usual, don’t believe the way you’re supposed to; you, as usual, are at fault for your lack of belief; and you, as usual, should just keep quiet and pretend you have no problems.

Just like the rest of the people in the room are doing.

Doubt Exists

But doubt is part of our lives for a reason, most notably so that we don’t accept everything we’re told without questioning, and if you are doubting something about God, it’s good to admit it — to yourself, to God; you don’t have to announce it to the panicky people drinking bad coffee in the back of the hall — and ask Him to walk you through it.

Because, ultimately, we want to trust in a good, loving, compassionate God who is all powerful, all knowing, and all wise. The alternative — that we’re pretty much stuck with circumstances as they hit us in the face, here, and that in the afterlife things will look kind of  the same, with some people having so much more and others, like us, having so much less — is something we can’t accept.

And we shouldn’t.

We Should Doubt Wrong Teaching

Perhaps we are doubting because what we have been taught is wrong — like the pervasive teaching that all we have to do is pray God’s verses over someone, and they’ll be healed (and they’re not, say) or when we ask for anything in His name we’ll get it, because He says so (John 14: 14), and the money doesn’t come.

So we reasonably, and sensibly, ask, “Why? Is it you, God, or is it something about the way I’m understanding things?”

I know it doesn’t seem fair, but 100 percent of the time the answer appears to be the latter. And the only Person who can enable us to understand things better is God Himself, so no matter how hard we try, we can’t run away from Him.

There are two major things we humans consistently doubt about God:

1) His ability

and

2) His goodness,

and one of the best Bible accounts illustrating both of these is the story of Jesus falling asleep in the boat with His disciples when a storm comes up (Luke 8: 22-25; Matthew 8: 23-27; and Mark 4: 36-40).

“Where Is Your Faith?”

Now what many of us have traditionally been taught regarding this story is  that the disciples should have trusted Jesus because he had told them, “We’re going to the other side.” That makes sense. But consider this as well:

Wind, water, and waves can break up the smooth sailing of a boat on the waters of our lives. On the Horizon, by Steve Henderson, licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

In all three accounts, the disciples express amazement — and terror — that this man in the boat with them has the ability to command the waves and the water. In other words, He did far more than they thought He could, so when Christ asks them, after He calms the storm, “Where is your faith?” He could have been asking, “Do you not believe that I can do all things?”

And this:

In Mark 4: 38, the disciples wake Jesus up with the phrase,

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

So, not only do they doubt Christ’s ability to take care of the situation, they also doubt His caring enough about them to do so.

You ever felt that way?

Work Through Your Doubt

I, personally, struggle on a regular basis with trusting God’s goodness; instilling doubt about this goodness is one of Satan’s first and best lies. While I can clearly see God’s hand in the lives of others, a small part of me is convinced that He’s a bit busy, or distracted, or asleep in the stern with his head on a cushion, when it comes to my needs, and that’s why it’s taking so long for particular prayers to be answered.

The disciples’ words are comforting because they illustrate that I, and you, and the panicky people drinking coffee in the back of the room, are not alone in this thought, the only person in history who has thought this way. We walk away from the passage feeling comforted, as opposed to chastised because we’re such miserable slobs who . . . doubt.

Do not run away from doubt, and do not accept that you must live with it. Left unchecked, doubt has the power to erode belief, but squarely faced and tackled, it can lead us forward. Recognize that it will show up — often at the most inopportune times — and instead of reacting with recoil –

“I shouldn’t doubt! I shouldn’t doubt! I shouldn’t doubt!”

bring the issue to God and say,

“You are compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet you do not leave the guilty unpunished.” (Exodus 34: 6-7)

“Please, teach me Who you are.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I have drunk a lot of bad coffee in my time, and been told many times, “Praise Jesus! You need to just TRUST Him!” It’s hard to respond, because generally the person who just said that turns around and starts talking to someone else.

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