Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

What Chickens Teach Us about God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There are two primary ways to learn about God:

The first, and most obvious to all of us (even though we may not take advantage of the resource), is Scripture itself. Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms, Gospels, Epistles, History, or Poetry — the Bible is full of references about God, and when we read it on a regular basis, with an open mind and a strong dependence upon God Himself to teach, we absorb the love, the grace, the wisdom, the power, and the awesomeness of our Father.

Wise chicks stay close to the mother hen, and they listen for her voice. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

Wise chicks stay close to the mother hen, and they listen for her voice. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

The second, less obvious, but no less important means of learning about God is through His creation:

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:29)

Simply walking outside is a lesson about God, only our problem, in a society that is increasingly trapped within cities and spends its day going from car to cubicle, from cubicle to grocery store, from grocery store to interior living space, all with a radio, iPod or TV droning music or talk show or newscaster in the background, is that sometimes it’s difficult to notice God’s creation, so eclipsed is it by man’s messiness.

Sheep, Chickens, Goats

When Jesus walked the earth, people on the whole were less insulated from God’s creation, given that New York City and its clones weren’t the societal norm, and nobody had cell phones. Many of our wise Eldest Brother’s stories and statements had to do with sheep, or vineyards, or walking from one town to the next, or fishing, or even my favorite, chickens.

Now those of you not privileged to have chickens in your life — living ones, that aren’t breaded or fried — don’t know what you’re missing. “Pecking order” is a real and violent thing, and within a flock, there are definitely the top birds, the lowest of the low, and everyone in between. In a chicken coop, if you have multiple bars on which the birds may roost, the dominant birds are at the top, prime real estate where everyone wants to be, because if a predator does get in, it will go for the birds on the lowest level. For this reason, there’s a lot of pushing and jostling and moving about on one’s roost, to secure the best spot.

It reminds me of a classroom, or office environment. And speaking of offices and upper level management, roosters crow a lot, frequently for no reason.

Run to God’s Protection

One of Jesus’s oddest metaphors had to do with chickens, an aching lament in Luke 14:34-35  (see also Matthew 23-37-38):

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

We are small and helpless, reliant upon the strength of our heavenly Father. Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you were not willing!”

Quite honestly, most of the time chickens seem like pretty mundane, primeval creatures (which they are, and they aren’t), and left to free range, they patrol an area regularly for worms, grubs, and grass. But a mother hen is something different indeed, easy to identify from a distance even when you can’t see the chicks near her feet:

She stands straighter. She’s alert, constantly looking for danger. And when she senses that danger, she emits a special clucking noise that brings the chicks — the smart ones that wind up surviving, that is — to her at a run. They gather under her outspread wings, which she then enfolds around the chicks, sheltering them from the threat.

Most dogs and cats take this as a strong indication to keep their distance, and even wild creatures think twice about approaching a puffed out, inflated, extremely belligerent creature. And while the chicken is not generally thought of as a noble animal — like a lion, a tiger, or even a polar bear, all of whom don’t take kindly to strangers messing with their children — the mother hen is noble in her own right, and she will give her life to protect her brood.

“Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge,” the Psalmist cries out in Psalm 57:1-2.

“I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.”

As I mentioned before, the chicks that survive are the ones that listen for and heed that special clucking of the hen; those that run off into the grass, panicking, generally find themselves in the jaws of a predator.

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge,” Psalm 91:4 describes our creator, our God, our Father as a bird — a mother bird no less — because in this creature that He made He infused a sense of protection, and fury against the enemy, and willingness to fight to protect what is hers.

We Are God’s Precious Children

This is God’s attitude toward us, His precious children, and He wants us to stay close, near Him so that when He calls we can drop what we’re doing and run to His protection, because we mean so much to Him. The mother hen does not stop her chicks just before they reach her wings, asking whether they were thinking right thoughts a minute ago, or whether or not they ascribe to correct doctrine — all that matters to her (and to them) is that they come when she calls, and rely upon her to be safe.

Such is the lesson that we can learn about God, from chickens:

We are precious to Him, and we need His protection, because there are a lot of predators out there ready to eat us up and spit us out. Rather than keep our distance, because we obsess, constantly, that God is displeased with who we are (His children!), let us stay well within His circle of protection, learning from Him how to uncover the food we need, where to find water, where to safely sleep.

And let us listen, always, for His voice, because it is one of love and care, compassion and mercy, and it calls us to His side.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you to seek God, always, with this fact in mind:

He is all good. All loving, All compassionate. All merciful.

If any doctrine or teaching calls this into question, then change the doctrine, not your idea of God. The latter is what we find happening throughout our contemporary 21st century establishment Christianity, leading many of us to fear God in a manner that involves suspicion, not awe.

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Corporate Christianity: 5 Ways to Stop Thinking Like Office Workers

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Family, teamwork, community — for years these words have circulated through our corporate business culture as a means of convincing people that the workplace is warm, caring, fuzzy, and cuddly.

Corporate culture is so prevalent, that it starts to feel normal to us. Screen shot from TV show, The Office.

Corporate culture is so prevalent, that it starts to feel normal to us. Screen shot from TV show, The Office. NBC Photo Credit: Paul Drinkwater

What’s intriguing is that the same words are employed within Christian settings, which increasingly look like the business world: with our leadership meetings, discipleship committees, and small group participatory events, the world of the establishment church is feeling cloyingly like the world of work.

These thoughts were reinforced throughout the week as I used my new calendar, a page-by-page Spanish-a-day affair that is choosing to devote January to business, which is what establishment Christianity is in danger of looking like all year round. Here are the first five days of business-related sentences, in English, and thoughts on how they relate to Christianity:

1) “I love my job.”

Many people actually don’t like their jobs, but that’s beside the point. Translated into Christian culture this phrase is, “I love my church.”

While we may or may not love the place we spend Sunday mornings from 9:30 to noon, church is more than a building, or even the closed group of people living within that building.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:27. It’s easy to circumscribe our definition of church and forget that it includes all of God’s children, some of whom live in Palestine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (v. 26)

2) “I enjoy interacting with my co-workers.”

Within Christianity, this is called “fellowship,” something that is low on the corporate Christian ladder and well below small groups, discipleship, leadership classes, Sunday School, Bible study, and “ministry opportunities.”

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of woman and child on ocean beach reading book by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, amazon, framed canvas art, icanvasart, and great big canvas

People matter, and loving people — our neighbor, our family, our sister — is the most important component of fellowship. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at art. com, amazon, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

But of all that list, not only is fellowship the most important, it is also the only one that can — and should — be accomplished on the level of the ordinary Christian, without “leadership” supervision or interference.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love,” Paul says in Romans 12:9. “Honor one another above yourselves . . . Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

It’s hard to love, pray for, or be concerned about someone we hardly know, and we can’t know someone we only exchange a few words with (“Will you please pass me the hymnal?”) once a week in a highly structured situation.

Since you probably won’t have much opportunity to do so during religious services, make an effort to seek out and communicate with believers — whether or not they go to your church — on a regular basis. In other words, when Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us to “Not give up meeting together,” think outside the building.

3) “They’ve just given me a raise in my salary.”

(I never said that this calendar was accurate, just that it was teaching Spanish vocabulary.)

Prosperity doctrine infects the church, and even those who say they reject it have to fight the innate belief that when good things happen in our lives, it’s because we’re being good; and when bad things happen — especially to other people — it’s because they deserve it.

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19, writing from prison.

Whatever is happening to us, God knows about it, and if it tends to be unpleasant, this is not necessarily an indication that we are wrong and being punished, nor that we need to “declare” and “claim” all the louder.

Indeed, riches — for all that we secretly want them and are convinced that we would do a better job wielding them than most — are a snare that God doesn’t necessarily want us to be entrapped in:

“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 19:24. I wonder how often this verse is seriously discussed in contemporary churches?

4) “I have to get ready for the interview.”

1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to given an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Too many people take this to mean that they have to sound like a professional evangelist, the kind who fills football stadiums, and they disparage themselves because they’re not quick and slick with their answers.

But rather than waste time practicing what we’ll say, why not absorb ourselves in Scripture and in contemplation with God, asking Him to show us what it is that we believe, and why?

It’s a given that, when we talk to people about God, they’ll come up with some difficult questions (like, “How can a loving God send the people I love so dearly to hell?”) and before we put them down for not accepting our standard answers, maybe we should look at some of those standard answers and see if, deep down, they satisfy us, either.

Any doctrine, any belief, any statement that puts into question the all merciful, all loving, all gracious, and all compassionate nature of God, is one that we need to review and pray about.

5) “The company offers rather generous benefits.”

An old joke, still circulating as if we’ve never heard it, is, “I may not get paid much for being a Christian, but the retirement benefits are out of this world!”

Because we are eternal beings, life has to be lived wherever we are, now, and those of us who aren’t dead (physically, that is) do not have to wait until heaven to experience the benefits of belonging to the household of our heavenly Father:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said in John 10:10.

If your reaction to this sentence is along the lines of, “When will I have this, Lord?” then give yourself points for honesty, and go ahead and ask Him. It’s okay to want this abundant life — He wants you to want it, actually — and if you ask Him to lead you to it, He will. Keep in mind, however, with reference to point number 2, that the benefits the world looks for are not the ones that He is concerned with.

Christianity is not a business, but the people outside of it — and too many within it — can’t be faulted for thinking that it is so. Those of us in the cubicles, however, can make a difference by not listening so much to management, and getting back to the real thing.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

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It’s Comforting to Be Wrong

posted by Carolyn Henderson

It is an never-ending source of comfort to be me that I am so frequently wrong.

Never-ending, because on a daily basis I manage to miss the mark more than once, whether I’m talking about the weather or making a mental judgment of someone’s character: I’m wrong a lot.

The Divide inspirational original oil painting of alpine mountain and lake in the Wallowas by Steve Henderson

The One who made the mountains and the lakes, the seas and the forests, is the One who is never wrong. The Divide, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

This is not an admission easily made in the country in which I live, the United States, which is plagued by a population of celebrities, politicians, military “analysts,” talking heads and torsos, and media columnists who are constantly prognosticating, analyzing, pontificating “what if?”, and arranging the details in a simplistic enough format so that the rest of us idiots can readily reach the conclusions they mean for us to reach.

They talk big, confident, and full of expertise — we’ve all met people like that. More than one small, family business has faltered and failed because its owners and top managers, insecure in their own ability to look at facts and make decisions, abdicate power to the aggressive, slick speaking consultant or expert.

Real Prophets Are Never Wrong

And when success eludes, those affected rarely look back — just as rarely as we look back at the words of the news commentators and analysts — and see if the predications of the expert really came true. It’s easier, somehow, just to believe and not question. (To those who make fun of us who talk about faith in God, I might point out that it’s a better bet than faith in analysts. They’re not prophets, although most make little effort to remind us of this.)

With that in mind, let’s also observe that prophets, true prophets, are never wrong because their source of information — God — knows the future. He’s the only one who does.

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father,” Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24:36, after a long series of predictions about the future. To this day, we wonder, “Did all this stuff come true already? Or is it still come to pass? And when?”

Lots of Prophets

Good questions, and on the religious side of experts and analysts, there are plenty of pop-Christian TV personalities and mega-church moguls who will be happy to answer any that we have, completely and totally, fitting everything into a neat, and tidy, box. Those with enough money and resources launch book series or movies on the matters, disseminating their interpretation to a wider audience — the masses.

Catching the Breeze inspirational original oil painting of woman walking along ocean breeze by Steve Henderson, licensed prints by allposters.com, amazon.com, art.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

In the make believe world of men, there are masses, but in the real world of God, each human being is a precious individual. Catching the Breeze, original oil painting, sold; licensed prints at art. com, amazon, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and AllPosters

When the masses do not realize that they are composed of individual human beings, each precious in their Father’s sight, and each capable of reading Scripture, praying to God, and seeking wisdom for themselves, then we wind up with millions of people believing, and doing, unquestioningly what they’re told.

Such is the Christian church in America.

The Bible is not something that can be parsed and predicated, deciphered like a code, set out in segments and understood without any attendant inquiry, concerns, doubts, or sheer frustration at the number of unanswered questions. I am reminded of a book I read in 2014, published years earlier, which set out all the things that would happen in 2012, all in accordance with current events set in juxtaposition to Biblical truths. Amazingly, the writer is still writing, and selling, his books.

Humans Aren’t Inerrant

As humans, we like security, and predictability, and certainty, but we look for it in the wrong places. While those of us who are Christians worship a God who is all-knowing, all-wise, all-compassionate, and all-good (there is security and certainty in this, although not predictability), we rarely act as if we believe it, and can easily be led astray by a confident, assertive voice telling us:

“This is what God means. This is what He will do, and this is what He wants you to do.” even when the speaker’s interpretation results in the impression of a God who is NOT all good and compassionate. All the speaker needs to do is stand up straight, look us in the eye and say, “This is correct doctrine. I have a degree, and you do not. Believe what I say about current events, and the future.”

So we acquiesce, and accept, in much the same way we listen to the evening news.

But, “no man knows the future, who can tell him what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7), and

“The fool multiplies words. No one knows what is coming — who can tell him what will happen after him?” (10:14)

We can discuss, we can analyze, we can predict, we can draw what we think to be logical conclusions from the facts we are given, but ultimately, no human being can tie all those facts together in a handkerchief and say,

“Here. This is what will happen.”

This is why I am grateful that I am so frequently wrong: I am constantly reminded that I am not a prophet of God, but a daughter in His household, and my purpose is not to know the future, but obey my Father. Such is the purpose of all God’s children, and it is time that we sought the truth from the source: not the news analysis stations, not the pop-Christian equivalents, not the self-styled “leaders” who talk big, but give little — but God, and God alone.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me a Commonsense Christianity, where my constant encouragement to my brothers and sisters in the household is that you read Scripture for yourself and gain enough confidence in God to believe that He will teach you what you need to know.

Posts complementing this one are

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You Don’t Belong to Any Church: You Belong to God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

You don’t have to be a student of political science to recognize that there is no perfect, man-made governing system.

Even democracy — which is not what we live under in the United States — works better on paper, or parchment, than it does in real life because, though we theoretically operate with the concept that every single adult — male or female — has equal say in how things are run, in reality the job is expropriated by a limited group that has the necessary money and power to get elected. (What percentage of U.S. Senators and Representatives are lawyers, versus the number who work at Wal-Mart?) Only a naive person would insist that the wishes of the masses dictate the decisions of the elect.

Magenta inspirational original oil painting of flamenco woman dancing by Steve Henderson

As Christians, we pledge our allegiance to One and One only — God. Magenta, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Sadly, there’s never a shortage of naive people, nor those who work upon their fears. And hence we get the system we are born under — be it communism, or despotism, or oligarchy, but the general result is that a small number of people manipulate the circumstances of the many. Regardless of the “ism” at the end of of political system, the result looks the same.

God’s System

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them,” Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 20:25.

“Not so with you. Instead, 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 serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I cannot remotely imagine any civil government operating under this ideal, which is understandable because the nations and kingdoms of men do not honor the principles and practices of God.

The Church System

God’s church, however, is supposed to be doing so. Is it?

Summer Breeze inspirational original oil painting of boy flying kite on windy day in meadow by Steve Henderson

In God’s kingdom, it is the least who are greatest — and if we don’t see that in the system we’re in, then it’s not part of God’s kingdom. Summer Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

This would depend upon one’s definition of church, and if the operating definition is no more than a building in which one “worships” god, and the denominational association under which one does so (Catholic, Protestant, Baptist, Episcopalian, Emergent, the list is endless), then the church looks little different from any man-made governing system. It has its boards and committees and leadership sect and rulers who lord it over the laity (masses) in the pews. (If this sounds like a corporation, it’s not an accident as oligarchies — the man-made system under which the majority of the world groans these days — are marriages of government and business. Religion, as a business, can easily snuggle in.)

But what about another definition for church, one that accords more accurately with what is written in the New Testament:

God’s people, who, though they are many, are one in the body of Christ (not just one little cluster of adherents who meet in one building that is open from 9:15 a.m. to noon on Sunday morning), and individually one with another. (Romans 12:5)

The apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:19-22 are ringing and strong, something we can grasp onto and say, “YES! I want that!” —

“You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

“In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” 

One God, One World — But Not Like Man’s

Long before the Rockefellers and the Rothchilds and the Bushes and the Carnegies and the men of money and renown dreamed of their global economy and One World Order, God set up a kingdom in which His people — His daughters and sons — interact together as one body, one temple, one spirit with one leader — God, our Father.

His is a kingdom that is not a democracy, not a republic, but a theocracy — in which there is one supreme ruler — God — who wields not only power, but compassion; not only justice, but mercy; not only wisdom, but love — the perfect and unfailing love of a Father towards His children.

No human ruler, no human system, no human government, no human church establishment, can do this.

And we don’t expect it to. But while there is no theocratic rule of man-made government (thank God! can you imagine being required to worship any human president, prime minister, or monarch? It’s happened, you know), there is a theocracy for the believers in Christ, and we are called to serve Him as our leader, master, monarch, and father (this latter being the most friendly and easily accessible concept).

Follow God, Not Men

This means that, as individual believers in Christ, we serve not the established church, not our denomination of choice, not the leadership and worship team of the building we frequent, not a mass-media nominated “national pastor” who writes books and visits the pope, but God the Father alone.

He commands our lives, our obedience, our thoughts, our loyalty, and our very souls, but it’s a good exchange, because He gives us, readily, His love, His compassion, His mercy, His teaching, and His guidance and help as He shapes us into being mature sons and daughters of His household.

When we are told, in Hebrews  10:25, to not give up meeting together, this is not a mandate that we be someplace specific every Sunday morning at 10:30. It is an exhortation that we seek out, however and wherever we can find them, fellow believers and we fellowship together, steel sharpening steel, something vastly different than man-made religious authority would have us believe.

We do not “belong” to a church, a building, a movement, or a denomination — we belong to God, and it is to God alone that we owe our lives, obedience, service, and souls.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage God’s children to see themselves as just that — His children — and not limit themselves to human appellations (“I’m a Baptist,” “I’m a Pentecostal Christian,” “I attend the biggest church in Texas”).

Posts complementing this one are

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Finding the True God When We’re Worshiping the Wrong One

Four Lies Creeping into Today’s Church

The Misfit Christian (This is what you will find yourself to be once you start seriously asking questions. It’s not a bad thing at all, because the alternative is to accept everything you’re told, without question. Want that?)

 

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