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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Abusive Christianity

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Any time we are in an abusive or controlling relationship, it takes effort to emerge from it, our independence and self-worth repaired and brought back to health and normalcy. Information that we have accepted as fact or truth, which has been gently twisted to mean other than it does, has to be re-evaluated.

Not all creatures with wings are angels. Not all that we are taught about God is true. Vintage 1930s Paris Postcard Image.

Not all creatures with wings are angels.  Not all that we are taught about God is true. Vintage 1930s Paris Postcard Image.

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And often, the best way to see things clearly is to get away from the person, group, or organization that is exerting control over our lives.

In our case, it was the modern, corporate-influenced church establishment that had undue influence over how we saw God, our perfect and loving Father, and Christ, our gracious and compassionate Eldest Brother. So confused are some people about this love and acceptance that they simply cannot understand the verse at the head of this essay.

We were guests at a Bible Study once in which the participants agonized over the import of the verse:

“What does it mean?” they asked each other. “Because we know, of course, that God can’t simply look past our sins and faults and accept us as is.”

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One thing we’ve noticed in interacting with people in abusive, dysfunctional relationships, is that the victim is always at blame for what happens to him or her: it is because of the way she acts, or something he says, or even a look on their face that the attack from their abuser comes. The abuser, quite cleverly, is always innocent, asserting that he or she was “provoked” by the victim. And while God is not an abuser, we humans easily create an interpretation of Him to fit the profile.

An Angry Father

I am reminded of the teaching I received in the evangelical system that Christ stands as a mediator between me and God, protecting me from my Father’s violent, raging, and vehement wrath. I was safe, I was told, because Jesus (who had His own issues with me) was standing between my Father and me.

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“But what if I want to stand beside Jesus?” I thought. “God will see me then, and will be so disgusted by me that He’ll attack.”

It’s a valid concern drawn from the teaching: because we are wretched, awful, horrible, creepy, nasty sinners, it is only Christ’s presence that enables our Father to be in the same room with us. So why would we want to be around Dad?

But this is not our Father of the Bible, nor the Father that our Eldest Brother, Jesus, taught us to seek:

East from West

“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him,” Psalm 103:11 rejoices. Unfortunately, the abused Christian will stop, frozen, at the word “fear,” and stay there. However, the words go on (they all do — the Bible is meant to be read as a whole, with the concept of God’s merciful love and grace prominent at the forefront of our minds):

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Eyrie inspirational original oil painting of grand canyon sprite at sunrise by Steve Henderson licensed prints at AllPosters.com, Art.com, Amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

If East went on forever in front of me, it would never run into the West that runs forever behind me. Let us rejoice in the warmth of the Son. Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at AllPosters, Art. com, Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas

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“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” That’s an encouraging thought.  However, when we dwell on it, eyes closed and a smile on our face, we’re sure to be poked in the ribs and reminded:

“Don’t forget your sins! Don’t think that you can just rest in your sinfulness and expect God to love you!”

which makes me wonder if the apostle John was confused when he wrote 1 John 4:19:

“We love because he first loved us.”

Jesus tells us John 14:9,

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” It doesn’t take much reading of the Synoptic Gospels to realize that the few times Jesus exhibits powerful anger, He is dealing with people who are focused on making money, or securing power, on the basis of His Father’s name.

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Many, many others, who “deserved” worst, didn’t get it: read through Luke’s crucifixion account in 23:26-43 and see how Christ reacted to those who sneered at Him for not saving Himself, to the soldiers mocking Him during His agony, to the criminal beside Him who hurled insults.

And to the other criminal, who also “deserved what he got,” and who spoke up for the Brother he didn’t know He had.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” was Christ’s pronouncement upon the mockers.

“Today you will be with me in paradise,” was his response to the man dying at His side.

A Kind Brother, A Good Father

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Surely, if Christ — who by His own words is in the Father, and the Father in Him — showed compassion and grace to those who vilified Him, why are we so convinced that He, and Our Father, are out to get us for every bad thought, every selfish action, every sinful desire that we give into?

Is this the way a wise parent guides and instructs his children?

Obviously no, although maybe not so obvious, because one tendency of evangelical Christendom is to encourage instant, almost military-style obedience from one’s children, the lack of which theoretically shows up the parents’ inability to fulfill 1 Timothy 3:4 — “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.”

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(There’s nothing in the passage about snapping out orders, but there is mention of temperance, self-control, hospitality, and gentleness, attributes which, one thinks, should be extended to one’s children as well as to those outside the family circle.)

We are far too ready to embrace condemnation as an inevitable, necessary part of our relationship with God, but before we wholeheartedly accept that this is the way things must be, maybe we should ask our Father:

Do you condemn me?

The answer is in Roman 8:1.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Years ago, when I first started seeking God’s love and acceptance and mentioned to others that the God I had been taught was a condemning one, I was condemned by another Christian for, guess what? Not trusting God enough.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Child of God: You Are Much Beloved

 

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Are You Ashamed of Your Job Title?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter,’ he said, ‘your faith has healed you.'” (Matthew 9:18)

How we define ourselves matters. All too frequently, we squeeze ourselves into little boxes, ones set before us by a corporate society that does not care for the individual but only his function as a unit to make money for others, and we pull the lids shut over our heads. And then we wonder why things seem so dark and stuffy.

Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of child and mother in Victorian setting by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Amazon.com

“Stay-at-home Mom” — that was my title for years, and one I treasured and was grateful for. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, and Amazon.

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“So, what do you do for a living?”

I myself have been guilty of this atrocious question, one we use to break ice with strangers, and I call it atrocious because we are so much more than what we do to put food on the table that day.

I should know this. I spent the greater part of my professional life as a stay-at-home mom, a non-position because, while it involves a significant amount of doing a little bit of everything well, it does not pay, and it does not require a degree or license (yet, but give the “experts” and those who seek to control the lives of others enough time, and they’ll arrange an executive order or legislative action).

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The Money We Make

Stay-at-home moms are nobodies. So are a lot of other people who don’t do “important” things, and the worth, intelligence, and value of a person is assessed based upon the title they hold and how much they make. That latter is most significant: an unemployed person, who has been looking for a job for months, can write wretched verse on the side and be called a lazy slacker. Or, he or she can perform wretched verse to crowds and be called a success. The verses are still wretched.

The trap we fall into is accepting the misconceptions of the world around us, an invisible caste system that adjusts to time and culture, but pretty much focuses upon some element of money and/or power as the signature of success. Under this system, a highly prominent somebody descends into instant nobody status upon retirement, unless, of course, he can secure board membership in a large corporation, or a cabinet-level appointment in government. Most of us are not on the list for these things.

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Judging by Human Standards

“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called,” the apostle Paul tells believers in 1 Corinthians 1:26. “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.”

Ouch. But consider the three pregnant words: “by human standards.” Is it such a bad thing to not be wise (canny and crafty); influential (overpowering and greedy) or of noble birth (well-entrenched and doing anything to stay there) by human standards?

Enchanted inspirational original oil painting of young woman in meadow sunshine by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Art.com, Amazon.com, AllPposters.com, and Framed Canvas Art

God’s Daughter, or God’s Son — what title could possibly surpass those? Enchanted, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, Amazon, AllPosters, and Art. com

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Back to the apostle Paul, who by human standards was a rising success because of his noble birth (the tribe of Benjamin), influential position (Pharisee) and ability (“as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” — Philippians 3:6):

“But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ,” he continues in verses 7-9. “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

“I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.”

The Best Title Ever

He actually means this: something about his position in Christ was so valuable, so meaningful, so priceless that it was worth more than the very best that man’s world has to offer.

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And what, exactly was Paul’s position in Christ?

Son. And Heir:

“Because you (we) are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ 

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:7)

In the passage at the head of this essay, Jesus heals a woman who has suffered from bleeding for 12 years, and while we do not know how old this woman is, it’s highly likely, doing the math, that she was close to Jesus’s age, or older (middle aged — like me!). And yet Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the World through whom all things were made — including this woman — called her “daughter.”

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She, like Paul, like all of us who call Abba, Father, is an heir of God and co-heir with Christ (Romans 8:17), a distinctly impressive position that has nothing to do with our ability, title, education, connections, or human family name, background, or bloodline.

It is also a position that cannot be downsized, eliminated, taken over, merged, given a pink slip, forced into a retirement, or marginalized. Because it is not conferred by man, it cannot be taken away by him.

What you do, how much you make, whether or not you are between jobs and just what those jobs look like when you have them — these are insignificant when it comes to your actual value as a person. Your value as a human being won’t start when you get hired in a certain place, or when some person in a black robe and a ridiculous looking hat hands you an empty diploma case in front of a crowd of people.

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You are a human being, made in the image of God, created in Christ Jesus to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). The most important title you can hold, and the one worth seeking, finding, and resting in, is Child of God.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my heart goes out to good, honest people who hang their heads and say, “I’m just a nobody. I’ll never matter.” We ALL matter.

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Not a Leader? Good! God Can Talk to You

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“The man answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.” (John 9:30)

A well-meaning Christian once loaned me a book by a highly promoted Christian woman leader. (I make a point of gender identification here because, within Christian Evangelical circles, women are limited to teaching women, and they do it in this syrupy, sweet-tea fashion that always made me question if I had too much testosterone running through my system. And then I realized, “No, the problem’s not me, my estrogen, or testosterone. It’s the condescending tone and lack of intellectual voice in the ‘teaching.'”

Promenade inspirational original oil painting of woman with parasol in flower garden by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvas

God delights in His beautiful children, images of His own glory, and we were designed to walk with Him, companionably, in the garden. Promenade, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, Great Big Canvas, Art. com, Amazon, and AllPosters.

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Regardless of our estrogen levels, we all have the capacity for intelligent thought.)

One statement that jumped from the book, which was replete with commentary that just lay there, passively, and encouraged me to do the same, was along these lines:

“Beware if, when you’re reading the Bible, you interpret a text differently than the general way it has always been taught. Don’t feel as if you are chosen to receive any special teaching of God.”

Good God, no. How dare we feel — unless we are part of a small but vocal minority of self-imposed Christian leaders (have you noticed some of the same names, and their kids and grandkids and students and acolytes, year after year after year?)  — that we have anything to say, or learn, about Christianity that is at variance with traditional, accepted, or promoted thinking! If more Christians were to take this concept to heart — receiving the message with great eagerness and examining the Scriptures every day to see if what they are taught is true, along the lines of the Bereans in Acts 17 — what would happen?

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Rhetorical question. Those who believe, vociferously, in obedience without question and submission to whoever asserts authority over them will say,

“Correct Doctrine” 

“People will fall for bad doctrine! The message of Christ will be perverted.”

Those who question men’s motives and recognize a propensity to seek money and power will muse, “We have a lot of doctrine out there — all of which avers that it is correct — that is at variance with itself. The experts — whoever they are — don’t tend to agree. And sometimes they say some pretty strange things.”

High Tide on Siletz Bay inspirational original watercolor of river running through coastal meadow by Steve Henderson

Mud, made from dirt on the ground and the spit of Jesus — it wasn’t the mud that healed, it was the man who made it. High Tide on Siletz Bay, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold.

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The passage at the head of this essay is from John chapter 9, when Jesus heals a man born blind. My favorite aspect of the account is when Jesus,

“. . . spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,” he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam.’ So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.”

It should be no surprise to readers that this happened on the Sabbath, thereby incensing the Jewish religious leaders. Twice, they brought the healed man before them and demanded that he explain how he received his sight, at one point mandating,

“Give Glory to God — we know this man is a sinner.”

In other words, stop giving any implication that this man, Jesus, is good. Publicly acknowledge that He is bad.

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The healed man replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

He Didn’t Back Down

Despite being an ordinary person, below ordinary, actually, since the man’s blindness (from birth) was culturally thought — in accordance with traditional teaching — to stem from his, or his parents’ sinfulness, the healed man stood straight and spoke out, refusing to submit to the “correct doctrine” of the “leadership” of his day. From retrospect, we who are Christians can see easily these leaders’ inability to acknowledge or understand the Messiah they purported to seek, but for this nobody, this nothing, to dare to disagree was pretty unthinkable. Much as it is today, actually.

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Indeed, the leaders’ own words sum up their view of those under their aegis: “‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out.”

Right doctrine, enforced.

So What Did He Say?

And what did the man say that was so offensive? First he challenged — “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.” (You — the ones who are supposed to know because you are the teachers of Israel — cannot explain who this man is and how He can do what He does?) And then he states three truths:

We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. (Truth 1) Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. (Truth 2) If this man were not from God, he could do nothing. (Truth 3)”

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Truth 1 is a stunning example of right doctrine. Truth 2 is a statement of commonsense fact. Truth 3 looks strongly like more right doctrine. But the response to these statements, by the leadership of the day, was to expel the man making them.

And What Jesus Said

“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

“‘Who is he, sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.’

“Jesus said, ‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.'” (John 9:35-37)

Here is genuinely true, right teaching, from the mouth of our Savior Himself. And He gave it to an ordinary person who had been kicked out of the system.

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So the next time someone — in a book or from the pulpit or on TV — tells you to not feel, ever, that you could be worthy to receive teaching from God, teaching which is at variance from the common message of the day, remember the blind man whose eyes were covered with mud, made from Jesus’s spit.

The blind received his sight. And those who thought they were sighted, were blind.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage individual believers to, always, question what they are told, and seek the answer at the source: God Himself, who speaks through His Scripture as well as through the created universe of His hands. A little commonsense goes a long way.

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Modern Day Apostles

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.” (Matthew 10:2)

Do apostles exist today?

Along the Salmon River inspirational original oil painting of barn and river in Idaho by Steve Henderson

Do apostles exist now, and have they continued with us throughout the past? Or are they, like this barn, peculiar to a particular time and era? Along the Salmon River, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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It’s an important question, because we don’t have to wander far through the Christian arena to find people who put the title in front of their name, thereby claiming a unique and special status as teachers of God’s word.

Such status can easily be, and frequently is, misused and abused, so the wise Christian gives thought to the warning, expressed by Peter, one of the most recognized apostles of them all, in 2 Peter 2:1, 3:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teacher among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord . . . In their greed, these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up.”

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It’s interesting that this much damage is caused by mere teachers, not apostles, and it’s worthy also to note that their primary motivation is making money — which they do, because there will always be foolish, albeit well-meaning, people.

Money

So the first question for any Christian, confronted by someone claiming to be a modern-day apostle (or prophet, or stately evangelist, or mighty teacher) is — “Are you making significant amounts of money at this?”

“Ah, but Apostle Holiness is collecting money to spread his ministry throughout the world. He needs money to do this because television air-time, you know, is expensive. So is renting football stadiums.”

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Shore Leave inspirational original oil painting of two rowboats on Columbia River in Oregon Washington by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Allposters.com, art.com, amazon.com, Framed Canvas Art, Great Big Canvas, and iCanvas

The 12 Apostles are not known, in history, to have lived the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, AllPosters, Amazon, and Art. com.

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Regarding the issue of money, the Apostle Paul — who described himself as the “least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and despite his position being questioned by others (1 Corinthians 9:2) asserted his right because, like the 12, he had seen Christ (Galatians 1:1) — makes a point of not focusing upon the generation of money, even though he realistically deserved a minimum wage for the work:

“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk?” (9:7)

Although Paul acknowledges his right to be paid for his work — payment which, it should be unnecessary to point out, is not so excessive that it involves owning a private jet, running a multi-million dollar religious corporation under his name, and living a lifestyle far, far outstripping that of those who listen to him — he chose not to:

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“But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.”

So when we encounter our modern-day apostle, we ask, “Does his attitude reflect that of Paul? Is money NOT a focus?”

Humility

Another question to ask is, how humble is this guy?

Peter, Andrew, John and James were fishermen; Matthew was a tax collector; regarding the others, we know little, but nowhere do we find encouragement for any of them to aggrandize themselves by virtue of their position as apostles. Indeed, when Jesus asked them once,

What were you arguing about on the road?’

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they kept quiet, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest. (Mark 9:33-34)

Even at this level in their maturity, the disciples who literally walked with Christ knew that putting forth their own glory did not mesh with the teaching of their Rabbi.

I am reminded of some words I read recently by an acolyte who attended a grand conference of some modern-day, self-proclaimed apostle:

“He touched me! He came forth and put his hands upon me!” as if the man were our Eldest Brother Himself.

Rather than disabuse the woman of her misconception of who he is, this VIP continued through the swooning crowd, soaking up the love.

How a Real Apostle Responds

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How did another apostle, a real one, respond to adoration such as this? In Acts 10:25-26, Peter greets the seeker Cornelius, who falls at his feet in reverence:

“But Peter made him get up. ‘Stand up,’ he said, ‘I am only a man myself.'”

Does our modern day apostle respond in kind?

And a third question — is this apostle, this great teacher, this wise prophet — part of a family dynasty?

There is no guarantee, you know, that every child and grandchild of a minister of God, real or self-imposed, will follow in the literal spiritual steps of his forebears — 1 and 2 Kings list one ruler after another who either kept in the ways of his fathers, for good or evil, or did not, but as is pointed out in Ezekiel chapter 18, each man is judged for his own righteousness, and does not receive a free ride — or built-in publicity, instant ascendancy in the family ministry, and automatic speaking engagements — because of the name of his earthly father.

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Or he shouldn’t, in the kingdom of God. But he frequently does, in the kingdom of man.

Whether or not the position of apostle is an ongoing one, or a title limited to the first century, is not clearly and succinctly spelled out in Scripture, but if we keep in mind what is, then we can avoid falling for a charlatan:

“Watch out for false prophets,” Jesus — who knows a lot about these things — tells us in Matthew 7:15. “They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Check out also 1 John 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3; Colossians 2:8, among others.)

They look, and sound, like holy men. They live and speak, however, like greedy ones.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to be well steeped in God’s word for themselves, so that they can recognize when it is mis-used by others.

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