Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

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

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Dreams are great things. They push us, prod us, exhilarate us, give us hope for a brighter future.

They also frustrate us to no end, especially when we have a dream, a desire, a longing, an aching — for years and years and years — but despite how much we work toward it, pray about it, give it back to God in case we’re worshiping it too much — it doesn’t happen.

Riverside Muse inspirational oil painting of woman by river also licensed print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art by Steve Henderson

Achieving a dream involves not only a lot of hard work, but much time in waiting and prayer as well. Riverside Muse, original watercolor by Steve Henderson; licensed print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

But it also doesn’t go away.

Does this strike something deep inside you?

If it doesn’t, then you may be one of those people who tells others,

“Just have faith! God ALWAYS answers prayer, and maybe you just need to pray more,”

or

“There must be some sin, or something, in your life that is causing God to not hear your prayers,”

or

“Give that dream to God. You’re trying to control the situation, and this prevents Him from doing as He wills.”

“Why not me, God?”

If you do understand the frustration of a long-term, chronic desire about which you pray and pray and pray, it’s pretty much a given that you know God answers prayer, but you wonder why your particular prayer is taking so, so, so long. While coveting is a bad idea — not because God is going to “get” us if we do so, but because the end result of comparing ourselves to others rarely engenders a positive mental outlook — it’s hard not to look at others, receiving their gifts and answers and joys, and wonder,

“Why not me, God?”

I am reminded of a woman who lamented, “I need this situation taken care of, soon, because I’m really very impatient,” as if patience were something most people have, and she is genetically incapable of exhibiting.

Danged if her prayer weren’t answered, quickly. And while one part of me delighted in a her being relieved from high anxiety, another part thought,

“Why not me, too, God?”

Living in Limbo-Land

Quite recently, God has opened my life to a number of people living in limbo-land, as we call it — deeply committed followers of Christ who read Scripture, meditate, seek to know God, and ALL have some strong, unshakable dream or desire that is at least five years old.

Queen Anne's Lace inspirational original oil painting of woman in meadow with lace shawl also licensed prints at great big canvas, iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art by Steve Henderson

Those of us waiting spend MUCH time in prayer. Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Now while we in this limbo-group know well the story of God’s promise to Abraham for a son even though “his (Abraham’s) body was as good as dead — since he was about a hundred years old — and that Sarah’s womb was also dead,” (Romans 4:19), we are also acutely aware that none of us experience personal visitations from the Almighty, verbally promising us the fulfillment of our dreams. And so, when time continues to pass with little or no advancement of this deep, aching, insurmountable desire that many of us never asked for in the first place, our prayers start to look like this:

“Is what I want, what I ache for, in Your will? Is it taking so long because it’s just, like the promise to Abraham, going to take a long time? Or is it taking so long because it will never happen?”

It does not help, my dear friends who do not know what I’m talking about, to comment,

“Maybe God doesn’t approve of this dream — have you ever thought of that?”

All the time, amigo, all the time. It’s not like we haven’t asked Him.

You Know What I Mean?

If you’re nodding your head right now, and you are tired of wondering what is wrong with you, allow me to share what I’ve learned in nine years, and counting, of waiting:

1) God isn’t playing games with you, because that’s not what He does. 

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” Jesus asks in Luke 11:11-12.

“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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

I know, I caught that part, too — He’ll “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” Like you, I’m more interested in getting the answer to my heartfelt prayer, but I have an idea that the guidance, teaching, care, and love of the Holy Spirit is a fairly necessary component to a truly spiritual life, one that communes with God and rests in Him.

2) I know you’d rather have a solution, now, but in the process of it happening, you really do become a better person.

James 1:2-4 tells us,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Remember the impatient lady above? She gripes and whines a lot, which isn’t a characteristic of a mature person. She is one of the last people I would go to for wise, thoughtful, considered advice.

3) Nobody gets an easy ride.

The apostle John in Revelation 1:9 writes that he is our “brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.”

Prosperity doctrine, which has seeped into our very consciousness even when we slap it away, constantly whispers that, “God has a plan for your life, and He wants you to be happy, prosperous, safe, and secure — NOW.”

This empty promise, not backed by Scripture, causes many to falter in their faith when things don’t turn out the way the preachers promise; unfortunately, the faith in the preachers remains at the expense of faith in God. It’s important to recognize that the most put-together person we envy isn’t as stupendously successful as we think they are. We only see superficial externals — not the pain that is masked within, nor the changes that inevitably take place as time passes.

4) Your dream may not go away because it’s a valid one, and a very good one, and it will take time for God to transform you into the person who can live it.

When you’re tempted to ask, “Is this dream real, God?” read Romans 8:26-27:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.

“And he who searches our hearts know the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

The Spirit knows God’s will. Let Him take over on this matter.

Are you living in limbo-land? Believe me, you’re not alone. You never are.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

Posts complementing this one are

When Our Dreams Never Come True

Praying for Something Big? Five Points to Ponder

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

 

 

Silly Little Rules

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In a recent conversation with a five-year-old, it came out that using a pen, in kindergarten, is a prohibited activity. Violation of this particular law results in the punishment of putting one’s head down on the desk.

Pens and pencils by Steve Henderson Fine Art

A pen, a pencil, a crayon — some tools are better than others, but is there the ultimate tool that must always be used, no matter what? Rules are funny things. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

What strikes me most about this issue — other than that it still is an issue, because 46 years ago, when I was in kindergarten, using a pen at school was also disallowed for those under the age of 8 — is how petty, small, and unnecessary it is. While I’m sure that there are all sorts of reasons why young children should use chubby pencils and not ballpoint pens, many of this five year old’s (and incidentally, my) generation successfully employed pen technology at the age of 4, 3, or 2. The kids pick up, and use, the resources in their homes.

What also strikes me is that the punishment allocated is a perversely humiliating one: perverse, because it looks harmless, but when your head’s burrowed in your arms, and you’re in the midst of your peers, everybody knows that you’ve done wrong. In an arena where peer pressure reigns supreme, the grown-ups in the room really shouldn’t use it as a weapon for their convenience.

I’d say that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, only that there is no actual crime — just a violation of a silly, little, rule.

Religious Rules

So it is, far too often, in the walk of many Christians: we obsess about the infringement of rules, violation of statutes, transgression of dictums, except that, as theoretical vessels of grace, we never admit this outright: we simply spend a lot of time castigating ourselves because “we don’t have enough faith,” “we don’t trust God enough,” “our thoughts are not pure,” “we don’t have an attitude of worship,” “we’re too anxious,” or “our words are not seasoned with praise.”

In franker terms, we watch the “wrong” movies, read inappropriate books, swear, think a negative thought, speak aloud a negative thought, allow our bra strap to show, sleep in on Sunday because we feel like it, ingest an impermissible food, make a snippy comment, throw away a religious tract we find in a public bathroom — if the infractions are sounding minor and inconsequential, it’s because they are.

If they’re not sounding minor and inconsequential, then it’s time to get out of the Old Testament for awhile, and pay attention to the New:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death,” Romans 8:1-2 tells us.

“What Does This Mean?”

I’ll never forget being in a Bible study (as a guest in another’s house, I had no choice) when the members mused, with great confusion, “What does it mean, that ‘there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus’?”

Diaphanous inspirational original oil painting of woman in lilac dress and fabric at Grand Canyon National Park by Steve Henderson

What does freedom feel like? What does it look like? Aren’t these better questions than, “What rule did I break today?” Diaphanous, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Great Big Canvas, Framed Canvas Art, and Vision Art Galleries.

“What it SAYS!” I wanted to shout.

There. Is. No. Condemnation. In. Christ. Jesus.

Now while at this point some helpful voice inevitably reminds us that we do need rules, after all, and if we don’t have them, there will be anarchy, Paul addresses this matter throughout chapter 6 of Romans, concluding:

“For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (6:14)

Grace. We say the word a lot, but when it comes to allowing it, realistically, to flow in and through our lives, we resist: God loves us, that’s true, we tell ourselves, but He expects us to be good and obedient and law abiding.

Law Breakers

And in those last two words lies the problem: as long as we focus on the law, and whether or not we keep it, we don’t live grace. We simply break laws, because we are incapable of not doing so, no matter how hard we try to be good. We may as well expect ourselves to walk on water.

Jesus did that. He’s the only one who can. He’s also the only one who can live a sinless life, which He did, and His point in coming to the earth, living that life, dying that death, and being resurrected from it was not to damn us, and condemn us, and berate us, and consistently put us down because we are not perfect.

For all we quote John 3:16 — “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,” we stop before John 3:17:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Rigidity

In our efforts to simplify things and make them fit onto a gospel tract, we like to make a clear-cut outline of what Christ did, and within evangelical circles, this generally requires us to make a rigidly constructed statement of faith (“I accept the Lord Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord”) in exchange for which we receive eternal life, the rest of the world, quite literally, being damned if they don’t fulfill this formula to the letter —  but all we really know is that Christ has overcome the world (John 16:33) and whatever He came to do 2,000 years ago, is finished (John 19: 30).

We are not Jews. We do not live under Old Testament law, and there is nothing in the good news of the gospel that encourages us to make a New Testament one.

Understanding Christ’s love and compassion is a worthy and essential pursuit, because as long as we persist in creating, finessing, perfecting, and imposing rules on ourselves — and others — to earn that love, we will project a false, harsh God, one who does not love, unconditionally, but who commands that we bury our heads in our arms, on the desk, because we used a pen, when the rules say to use a pencil.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage you, always, to read the Bible for yourself and grow in grace, wisdom, love, mercy, and knowledge as you immerse yourself in the entire message — and that message, the one we call the gospel, does mean “Good News.”

If it’s not sounding good, then it’s time to find out why.

Posts complementing this one are

Practical Christianity: Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith (Part 1)

Practical Christianity: Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith (Part 2)

Practical Christianity: Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith (Part 3)

 

Practical Christianity: Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith (Part 3 of 3)

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In the first two parts of this miniseries on how to practically apply Biblical wisdom to our lives, we looked at the two Great Commandments:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

and

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

Wild Child inspirational original oil painting of little girl by ocean beach Victorian home running through path by Steve Henderson

We pay taxes to Caesar on our house, property, income, and anything that moves. God wants something more valuable from us. Wild Child, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Today, let’s look at Mark 12:13-17, in which the Jewish religious leaders sought to trap Jesus by the question of taxes, something that was as pleasant to their society as it is to ours:

“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus answered, “‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’

“They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? and whose inscription?’

“‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.

“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.'”

Without getting into whether death or taxes is preferable, let’s look at some ways to practically apply this teaching of Jesus:

1) Recognize that God’s standards and man’s are different. Money is very important to many people, so important to some that they start wars and foment dissent so that they can make more of it. While money is necessary to all so that we can eat, clothe ourselves, and live in a decent shelter, don’t make it the focal point of your life. Recognize that your value to God has nothing to do with the amount of material matter you do, or don’t possess.

2) You don’t have to be rich to give back to God. God knows how much is in our bank account. There are plenty of millionaires and billionaires who fund “philanthropic” projects that do little more than glorify their name, and if “all” you can do is buy a package of socks for your neighbor’s little girl who gets made fun of because hers have holes in them, you’ve done much, much more than many who preen at their own generosity.

3) Money isn’t everything. God’s gifts to people include far more than material wealth: intelligence, creativity, a spirit of kindness, the ability to lift 50-pound sacks of dog food into another person’s car, the willingness to listen and not pass judgment: these are all gifts that we can give back to God. Caesar doesn’t want them, nor would he know how to use them.

4) Give where you want. In these days of corporate multi-national globalized everything, charities are bigger and better than ever as well. Feel free to say no to sales pressure, and be alert to needs that God shows you, specifically: it could be a very small organization of one or two people trying to make a difference; it could be that neighbor and her child needing socks; it could be a tank of gas for your neighbor’s best friend’s sister who needs it to drive to a distant job interview. (Do you see how frequently our neighbor comes into this?)

5) What does God want? Psalm 51:17 tells us, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This isn’t something we actively pray for, and indeed, it’s actually easier to write a check — no matter how little is in our account — but if you are going through rough circumstances and you approach God with humility and a willingness to admit your weakness, you’re rendering unto God what is God’s.

Living as a Christian doesn’t so much involve thinking outside the box as it does giving the box to God, and letting Him throw it as far as east is to west.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am constantly amazed at the gifts God gives us. They never look like man’s treasures.

Posts similar to this one are

The Gifts We Give to God, When We Have Nothing Acceptable to Give

God, What Do You Want Me to Do Today?

Is Your Job Meaningless?

Practical Christianity: Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith (Part 2 of 3)

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In Part 1 of this miniseries, we looked at the Great Commandment,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30).

Midday Tea inspirational original oil painting of woman in victorian Boldman house dining room by Steve Henderson

When our neighbor knocks at the kitchen door, we have an opportunity to invite them in for tea and companionship. Midday Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Part 2 of our miniseries of tangible things we can do to live our faith involves the second Great Commandment:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

So, how do we do this practically?

1) Jesus Himself gives us the best example of how to fulfill this commandment in the tale of the good Samaritan, which you can find in Luke 10:30-37. Read this account, reread it, and think and meditate upon it through the day. Let it absorb into your spiritual muscle fiber.

2) Think about how you forgive yourself, and translate that into the love you feel for others. Most of us, when we recognize that we’ve done something wrong, are relatively forgiving of our foibles: “I was tired,” or “I shouldn’t have said that, but she provoked me!” If we love others as we love ourselves, we can grant them that same sense of leniency. It’s a given that we don’t spend days, hours, weeks, and years brooding darkly about our sins and feeding a sense of bitterness against ourselves.

3) Little, thoughtful acts make us happy — they do the same for others as well. Making an impact on lives doesn’t have to involve filling football stadiums with acolytes who are there to hear us speak, watch our face on the oversized video screen, and buy our products. Remember how it made you feel when the person in the grocery line looked at your one can of diced tomatoes and said, “Go ahead of me — I’m in no hurry”? You can give that same good feeling to another person, treating them as you enjoyed being treated.

4) Your neighbor’s everywhere, and some of them only you can reach. There are seven billion people on this planet, and we can’t encounter them all, but we can interact with, and bless, the unique and special individuals in our lives — our family members, co-workers, customers, literal neighbors, people we meet online via social media or forums, the person who delivers your newspaper. Think about the people in your life, and ask God how you can be a positive light in theirs.

5) Speaking of thinking, do so — and pray for the various people who come into your life. You don’t have to rush through hundreds and hundreds of names each night, but as you pray and meditate, ask God to bring someone to mind who needs your prayers (He does this, and it never ceases to be an awesome experience). You may or may not know a lot about their situation, but that doesn’t matter, because God knows it all. As you pray, if an idea comes regarding a way to bless any of these people, see about bringing it to fruition.

One small act builds upon another, and as we get into practice performing acts and thoughts of kindness, we ourselves change — into kinder, more thoughtful people. All while blessing others!

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about, and meditate upon, living a real, practical Christianity that makes a difference in our lives, and that of others.

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