Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Looking for Your Ministry? 5 Ways to Find It

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Many Christians, especially in church settings, focus — obsess — about finding their ministry, and they pore through 1 Corinthians 12 searching for suggestions:

“Do I have faith? or a message of wisdom? I’m pretty sure I don’t have the ability to manifest miraculous powers. What, God, do you want me to DO?”

Contemplation inspirational original oil painting of girl with autumn orange leaves by Steve Henderson

When we take time to think, and wait on God, we frequently find the answer, without having to buy yet another book the proposes its own solutions. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

It’s a profound question, and one that we ourselves can answer without buying yet another how-to book from a Celebrity Christian. Rather, let’s look at Scripture, pray, and listen to God’s still small voice, a voice that is challenging to hear unless we’re being still ourselves. Consider this thought:

Our “ministry” consists not so much in what we do for God, but in who we are.

In other words, as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, if we speak in tongues of men and angels, prophesy, have faith that moves mountains, and give all we have to the poor — but have not love, we — and those we “minister” to — gain nothing.

So, it’s worth repeating: It’s not what we do, it’s who we are. For those of you who like lists, here are five verses that give us practical behavior changes that we can ask God to implement in our lives:

Hearing

1) Listen more than we speak.

James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

As Christians, we operate under the misconception that we need to 1) solve people’s problems and 2) convince them to follow God, so we have a tendency to talk AT others as opposed to shutting up and allowing them to speak. Frequently, we get defensive, and thereafter offensive, if a hurting person lashes out with,

“God’s a crock! Who would believe in Him anyway?”

“You’re just a pagan infidel!” we shoot back. “No wonder God wants nothing to do with you.”

Wouldn’t we be more effective if we just listened — something so many people long for, but so few people do — and didn’t try to fix things, change things, or push humans into a box?

Humbling

2) Humble ourselves.

Romans 12:3 advises, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

In all of our lives, God places people who are really, really different: they’re loud and embarrassing in public places, they say discomfitingly awkward things and make others squirm, they have exasperatingly peculiar — and completely uncool — clothing and personal hygiene choices.

In being friends with them, it is tempting to think, “I am so gracious and merciful in dealing with this unlikable person,” and it doesn’t help that others — who don’t want to be associated with such social pariahs — feed our egos by saying, “Oh, you’re showing the love of God!”

Any time we harbor a secret sense of superiority over another because we’re 1) clean, 2) functionally sophisticated, 3) able to speak without spitting — the list goes on — we offend the very person we are trying to help.

Ironically, when we have this attitude, we ourselves lose out on the relationship, because we don’t think the other person has anything of worth to offer us back.

Accepting

3) Recognize that lowly isn’t loser.

In Mark 10:13-16, the disciples turn away people bringing children to Jesus, but Jesus Himself is indignant at this attitude:

Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother and daughter child in Victorian home by Steve Henderson

Children are so much more important than we adults realize. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such of these.”

In too many societies, children are nobodies because they don’t make money (unless they’re trafficked) and they require more work than they provide benefit, so we’re tempted to consider them not 100 percent human beings (and when they’re still in the womb, where they’re supposed to be safe, we pass them off as “fetuses.”)

Recognize that, not only are needy human beings everywhere, but you yourself are one of them. Treat others gently as if they can be broken, because they can.

Being Diffident

4) You’re important, and you’re not.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 20: 26-27, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom to many.”

At a speaking engagement I was invited to, I found myself, prior to the ceremony, unattended, with no contact person, in a crowded room, sitting on a bench while numerous strangers milled about, chatting in tight little groups it was impossible to join. (It’s a good thing to cultivate a skill in being comfortable, alone, in group situations.)

As I was admiring the proximate artwork, another unattached attendee joined me and we began talking. Eventually, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the speaker! I thought that you’d be in with all the important people!”

“I am,” I replied. “I’m with you.”

When you are elevated to a high position, recognize the tendency to feel as if you deserve certain perks for being there, and remember Jesus’s attitude.

Sympathizing

5) Cultivate empathy.

After loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, the second most important commandment is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12: 31.

Regardless of how much psychologists — including “Christian” ones — insist that we suffer from self-esteem issues, most of us know how to take care of Number One, and we do. Without falling into focusing on ourselves, we can use our awareness of how certain situations or people make us feel, to avoid inflicting this same pain on others.

If someone makes you feel dumb, then be aware of that and don’t act that way toward others. If you feel alone and awkward in social situations, then the next time you’re in one, seek out someone who looks more alone and awkward than you are.

Use the negative aspects of your life to understand those elements in the lives of others.

The Bible is full of wisdom, and to this most important question we all have: “How do I live my life in such a way to make it worthwhile?” there are far more than five verses, with five ideas.

Don’t worry about finding your ministry. Seek God’s wisdom, and your entire life will be a ministry.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I offer you this thought: if you’re breathing, you’re ministering. Breathe deep, and seek humility.

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The Purposeless, Driven Life

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Christians come in all shapes, sizes, and maturity levels, and the more honest we are, the more fun we are to be with, even if what we’re saying or working through is painful. The other day, someone told me:

For all that many Christians read books ABOUT the Bible, they spend very little time with the Bible itself. This leads to spiritual immaturity, and a stunting of growth. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

For all that many Christians read books ABOUT the Bible, they spend very little time with the Bible itself. This leads to spiritual immaturity, and a stunting of growth. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

“I’m so afraid that Jesus is impatient with me. I don’t read the Bible much, and I don’t know what it says. I don’t think that Jesus can use someone like me.”

Sentences like that always make me ache inside.

It’s not that there’s a problem with the sentiment, it’s that the person mentioning it has been a Christian for many, many years, and attending church, and Bible studies, and small group meetings, for just about that long. If this stuff worked, I thought, then why isn’t it, well, working?

While it’s easy to blame the individual (that’s what businesses and corporations and organizations and governments  and establishments always do), perhaps it’s time to look at what we’re telling that individual to do, specifically, when it comes to advancing his or her spiritual life.

Read This

“Read this book,” we say, handing them the latest in Celebrity Christian Cr –, um,  pap. “We’re having a small group study on it, and we’re going through one chapter each week.”

Gracious. The whole process sounds mind numbingly boring. The last several times I’ve been in the Christian books section of a store I’ve paged through the multi-million-copy best seller that just about every evangelical church in the country has done manifold weekly studies on, one agonizing chapter at a time, and I just can’t manage a paragraph before I feel like getting an egg salad sandwich, something I’ve never actually eaten because the very sight of one makes me nauseous.

The Fruit Vendor inspirational original oil painting of South American woman at market stall by Steve Henderson

Growth as a Christian requires good spiritual food, and the best source of that is directly at the Source — God Himself, through His word. The Fruit Vendor, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Fare such as this (the book, not the sandwich), however, is what we regularly feed the minds, and spirits, of believers – even “seasoned” ones who should be mature by now — in the name of “growing as a Christian.”

“Growing as a Christian is something that Jesus wants us to do,” we read in our weekly gatherings. “He wants us to be strong in our faith as believers.”

Paul’s Not Impossible to Understand

Well yes, that’s true, but Paul said it better when he commented, in Colossians 3:1-2:

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

Further reading of the passage encourages us to put away a fairly complete list of inappropriate, but highly human behaviors, and exchange them, instead, for Godly ones, not a task we are up to on our own, but then again, God doesn’t expect us to do these things without His help.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing gratitude in your hearts to God,” Paul concludes at the end of the passage.

 “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” – that’s the secret, you know, one that doesn’t require years of specialized training before we can start, nor one that devours 18 or so weeks of our lives, one chapter at a time.

Celebrity Teaching versus Truth

If as many people who have read “study” books would invest as much time and effort into reading the Book that the other books give the illusion of talking about, perhaps there would be less guilt, less insecurity, less spiritual agony by people who are well taught in the teachings of Celebrity Christians, but not the Bible.

Read the Bible. Just the Bible, which, ironically, in many “Bible” studies is not the central focus. While it’s tempting to think that you can’t understand it all, that’s okay – because nobody, not even the people who write books about how to study it, understand it all, nor does everyone agree on what every verse means. If you trust yourself enough to read the Book that is written in your own language, and do so regularly, you may find insight into passages that you never knew you could have.

You, yes, you, can make discoveries from this rich, relevant resource.

Afraid that you’ll misinterpret or get something wrong? Well, if that doesn’t bother the Celebrity Christians, don’t let it bother you.  When you enter into study diligently, with a humble heart willing to be taught by the Master, He’ll find ways to guide and correct you.

At the very least, when you read God’s words, you read His promises, many of which have to do with His being there, His being merciful and kind and patient, His love for His children, and you won’t have to live, chronically, with the doubts of the woman I mentioned earlier in this essay, because when you make a regular point of reading sentences like this:

“He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 1:6)

And this,

“I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand,” (Isaiah 41: 10)

You encounter and appreciate the nature of our Father, a nature so oppositional to anything we are accustomed to dealing with on this earth, that we can’t fathom it, at all, unless we learn about it from its primary source, God.

So . . . read His book. It’s a best seller.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, there are a lot of people who call themselves Christian in this world, but they’re satisfied with serving a substitute Christ, as opposed to getting to know the real one. So they read books that talk ABOUT the Bible, but never the Bible itself.

Or, if they do read the Bible, they never do so on their own, relying, always, on another human being to interpret it for them. This is not the path to becoming a strong Christian, which may explain why — while a lot of people call themselves Christians — very few are mature ones.

That doesn’t have to be you, or me.

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Christian Misfits: “You Have a Beautiful Face”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I’m sure that most of you, at some time, have found yourself in public in a somewhat disheveled state.

“Nobody I know will see me,” you tell yourself. And, of course, that’s when too many people you know do, indeed see you, their first comment generally being,

“Oh my gosh! Have you been sick? You look AWFUL.”

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with radishes by Steve Henderson

This is a beautiful face — because it is innocent, trusting, and dependent upon the goodness and care of someone stronger and wiser. Isn’t that the description of a Christian? Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

Last week, an elderly relative who lives 30 miles away fell and hurt herself, and a significant amount of lay-nursing fell upon my shoulders. I was leaving the grocery store with an assortment of necessary stuff and things when a frail, older gentleman, sitting on a bench, said something that I didn’t quite catch.

I stopped and politely asked him to repeat himself.

“You have a beautiful face,” he said, gently smiling.

Seriously?

It had been two days since I washed my hair, I was wearing no make-up, and I’d slept (not much), in my clothes. Adding to that, I could recognize the strongly subtle signs of dementia in my admirer. At the best of times, I would be set aback by a total stranger telling me that I have a beautiful face, but this time — not quite the best of times — I grabbed onto that compliment and took it for the encouragement I needed right then.

Because by all conventional standards, I do not have a beautiful face — not in the sense that Hollywood and mass media push and promote, and tuck and nip, and airbrush and PhotoShop, as a beautiful face. My looks are the, “your beauty comes from within,” type thing, and I’m fine with that since I look basically like a human being, and all human beings — made in the image of God — have beautiful faces.

So what does this have to do with being a Christian misfit?

No True Home on This Earth

In Matthew 8:18-20, admirers are pressing around Jesus when a teacher of the law approaches Him and says,

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.

“Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'”

Off the Grid inspirational original oil painting landscape of meadow and highland road by Steve Henderson

It’s not smooth; it’s definitely circuitous; and you frequently have to walk it — the narrow road takes us to places that the wide road cannot. Off the Grid, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Following Jesus — while it is truly the only way to find peace and contentment on this contentious planet of ours — is not easy, and while many Christians try to convince themselves that they’re on the narrow road of following Jesus, a substantial number of them are on a smooth, wide highway.

The Wide “Christian” Road

Absorbed in busyness, obsessed by finding their “ministry,” satisfied with organized meetings, prone to reading the notes at the bottom of the Bible page as opposed to the verses above, fascinated by celebrity Christians who urge them to “listen to me; listen to me NOW,” they are fooled by Hollywood’s interpretation of a beautiful face. They hand out tracts in public places, and when people (understandably) tell them to blow off, they say, “Oh! I’m being persecuted for Christ!”

Or, overhearing someone using words that rhyme with cluck and sit and well, they admonish, “My Lord Jesus Christ is offended by your language and I must ask you to be respectful and stop.”

When the natural response comes, invoking the name of Christ in a less than respectful way, the admonishers declare, “Oh! I’m walking the narrow road!”

The narrow road, however, is a lonely road, and a rough one, with stones, sometimes, to lay our heads upon. People embarking upon this road frequently observe,

“The people I thought were my friends (many of them from church) . . . aren’t. I feel like I am walking alone.”

Alone with Christ

To a certain extent, my Christian misfit, you are — that’s why you’re a misfit: you don’t fit into the parameters of establishment Christianity. There is not pew upon which you can sit; no fellowship table where you can drink coffee and eat donuts.

While it’s nice to fit in, to be a part of the group, God has a tendency to call His people out — alone with Him in the desert — like Abraham, who left his homeland and his people; or Joshua and Caleb, the only two men in their generation who trusted God enough to be willing to obey Him; or Peter and John and James, who told Christ, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19: 27)

What then, indeed? John in Revelation 1:9 describes himself as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.”

He was alone, on an island, far away from song service and small group study and leadership training and visitation committees and all the busy, purposeless things that we fill our hours with instead of serious prayer, listening, and walking to lonely places where we meet only a few others.

But those few others — those fellow misfits — they have such beautiful faces.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Daily, I meet Christian misfits — in person, online, via the mail — and I pray for you, because the road we’re walking isn’t an easy one.

But it’s taking us to a good place. And along the way, God introduces to us truth seekers — people who don’t know Him very well but want to. Their questions make sense to us because they’re ones we’ve had ourselves, and we can accept those questions without being defensive — or offensive.

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Is God Calling You?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In our church days, when I sat in an interlocking chair, stared ahead at the big white screen, and sang words that flashed by, I used to wonder, vaguely, if God was calling me to do something, and I wasn’t hearing.

After all, the church had all sorts of ministry opportunities. Although many of them I was unqualified for because I hadn’t gone through the newly implemented Leadership Training Classes, there were many mundane options, like coordinating the Interlocking Chair Set Up and Take Down committee (which, for some reason, NOBODY wanted to be involved in).

Peruvian Fishermen inspirational oil painting of boats on beach by ocean sea by Steve Henderson

God called the disciples away from a lifestyle they knew and were comfortable with, but He still wanted them to fish. Peruvian Fisherman, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

But I wasn’t interested. Burnt out after years of a Wednesday night children’s program that never could figure out if it was teaching church kids or attracting unchurched ones, I continued to arrive, Sunday mornings, and sing the words in front of my face. I reminded myself that working hard, loving my family, and caring for the people strewn across my path were worthy things to do.

God Is Calling . . .

And then God forcefully and unmistakably called me. Actually, He called our entire family, and it involved, initially, a whole bunch of really bad circumstances that were extremely painful to go through. God didn’t cause this pain — but He was there, along with a very few others, to get us through.

Simultaneously, we found ourselves increasingly disengaged with our weekly church experience, and while some would say this is because of our stubbornness to not go along with the program and take those Leadership Training Classes, it’s actually because of those classes — and the change in climate and attitude in the congregation around us — that we eventually left.

We simply couldn’t fit into the new way of thinking, the new insistence upon doing things one rigid, corporate-driven, inflexible way, and one Sunday — it was Easter — it snapped. We realized that we were bored, vulnerable, tired of being pariahs, and finished with fitting in. We weren’t growing, we weren’t deepening our relationship with Christ, and we certainly weren’t interested in the limited options we were given to “serve” Him.

An Unusual Direction

“It’s unusual that God would call you out of a church situation,” someone once told me. “I’ve never heard of that before.”

Catching the Breeze inspirational original oil painting of woman walking on beach by ocean sea by Steve Henderson

Walking alone isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and without distractions, we see and experience more. Catching the Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Neither had we, which is one reason we fought to stay in for so long, compromising our beliefs, giving in where there was no reciprocity, convincing ourselves that a weekly touching of bases — in a highly controlled environment — was fellowship.

The book of Mark, Chapters 7 and 8, contains two incidences of Jesus healing, both of which involve, interestingly, spit, as well as leading the people to be healed . . .  out: Mark 7: 31-37 describes Jesus with a deaf man who could hardly talk, and,

“After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, ‘Ephphatha!’ (which means, ‘Be opened!'”)

“At this, the mans ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.”

In Mark 8: 22-26, Jesus “took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’

“He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’

“Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened; his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, ‘Don’t go into the village.'”

Out, and Away

In both cases, Jesus took the person to be healed aside: “away from the crowd,” or “outside the village.” The healing process was unusual, very hands on, and — I imagine — not particularly pleasant. But it was effective.

One man’s ears were opened  and he was able to speak plainly; another man received sight, in stages:

“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” (Isaiah 35:5)

As Christians, we tend to assume that the blind/deaf issue is permanently taken care of when we find Christ, and to some extent it is. But there is a very real misconception that, as long as we say we’re Christians and are attending church, that we see and hear, somehow, and that we are awake, but if this were so, there would be no reason for warnings like 1 Thessalonians 5:6:

“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,”

or Colossians 4:2:

“Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”

It is easy to fall into complacency, mistaking busyness for service, repetition of words for prayer, meetings for fellowship, accepting someone else’s commentary for Bible study. The requirements are rigid but tempting to accept, and too many do.

In my experience, Church People — a more accurate description for many Christians — are asleep, readily accepting what they are told, and quick to jump on, or at, the people we’re instructed to hate: radical Muslims, or the liberal left, or anyone who speaks against Israel (there are, after all, Christian Palestinians)

It’s not all church people, and I’m not advocating that all people leave church, but I am advocating — regardless of where, or how much, or even if, you attend church —  getting very serious about your relationship with Christ, and being willing to follow where He leads you — which may very well be away from the wide, safe road where everyone is singing songs, and lifting hands, and taking notes from the sermon.

(I know, you thought you were on the narrow path already, didn’t you?)

If He is trying to open your ears and yours eyes, so that you can hear and see — and speak — He may very well lead you out of the village.

Follow Him.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Let me stop some of you right now: we’re happy where we are, in our unchurched situation, and while the experience of being pushed out of the church setting was initially painful, we would never undo it.

We also know that there is no such thing as a perfect church body/setting, and we are not looking for one. We interact with fellow believers in whatever manner God presents before us, and we encourage all Christians to remember that we — the saints who believe in Christ — are the church — not a building, not a denomination, and not a weekly service.

Posts similar to this one are

Alone But Not Lonely

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