Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

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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Practical Christianity: Tangible Things We Can Do to Live Our Faith (Part 1 of 3)

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Several times, I have had people write, or say to me,

“I want to live my life for Christ, but I don’t know how. It seems too difficult.”

It is, and it isn’t, and at base, living for Christ involves living, minute by minute, doing the things that are put before us.

eyrie inspirational oil painting of woman at grand canyon national park looking into sunrise by Steve Henderson

Loving God is a joyful thing, because He loves us first. Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Vision Art Galleries

The next three installments of Commonsense Christianity will address three practical, tangible things we can do to live our faith — and they’re not all inclusive. The Bible is filled with practical application to living, but let’s just start with three, and today, we’ll focus on number one — literally, number one — the most important commandment of all:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)

In the Bible, when something is repeated on a regular basis, it’s generally because it’s important, and this statement is made by Jesus, who adds “with all your mind,” in Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, and Mark 12:30.

Let’s apply this practically:

1) “With all your mind,” implies thinking, and the more we think about God, the more He is in our mind. Control and discipline your thoughts — when you’re tempted to worry, envy your neighbor, gossip in your head, or conduct mental conversations with your boss in which you systematically slash his ego to ribbons — think about God instead.

2) It’s easier to think about God the more you know about Him. Pick up the Bible and start reading — somewhere, anywhere — and recognize that every word in this book gives you information about God. The more you read, the more knowledge you glean. The more knowledge you have, the more you have to draw upon for thought.

3) As you think more on God, be open to what you can do for Him involving your strength, resources, money, talents, and skills. These don’t have to be big, impressive tasks. Simply smiling at someone you pass in the grocery aisles, or opening the door for another person, works. Start small, and be open to more as it happens.

4) Don’t worry about if you “love God enough.” He loves us first, and as we accept that love, ponder it, wonder at it, He gently teaches us how to love Him back. We are children, and in the same way wise adults are patient with little ones, our gracious Father is the wisest adult of all.

5) Ask God to help you. Great men, and women, throughout the Bible have relied upon God for the big, and little things, in their lives. Fulfilling this commandment is no small thing, and we can’t do it on our own. But when we ask Him, “Show me what this means — literally, and spiritually — guide me,” He is faithful to answer.

If this seems too simple, it is, and it isn’t — in the same way that young children don’t start out running, neither do we. We start out small, our hands in the hand of a big God, and learn incrementally.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to seek the God of love, mercy, grace, peace, and joy.

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Reading the Bible without Supervision

posted by Carolyn Henderson
provincial afternoon inspirational oil painting of two girls reading books in meadow by Steve Henderson

Reading the Bible and meditating upon it is the province of every Christian. If we own the book, and it’s in our language, and we can read it without being shot, we might want to take advantage of this opportunity. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Many Christians — myself included — have looked to various events and stories of the Bible as paralleling our own lives. We derive wisdom, teaching, instruction and comfort from the Exodus adventure and subsequent wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, or we see ourselves in the man who called out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 24)

This is one of the purposes of God’s Word — in detailing actual, historical events describing the involvement of God with His people, it leads us to discover and absorb truth that apply to our situations today — there is great comfort in knowing that when the writer proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Hebrews 13: 8) he was addressing not only his 1st century readers, but providing words of comfort to the generations of believers to follow.

Stretching Scripture

That being said, most of us are intelligent enough to recognize that the historical events of the Bible, and the Psalms written around them, and the prophecies of what was and is to come, do not dovetail seamlessly into our individual lives, and we won’t necessarily find word for word and sentence for sentence application.

One of my favorite gymnastic interpretations of Scripture is Gloria Copeland’s quote regarding Mark 10:29-30, the Scripture saying,

“No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much –“

There’s more, but prosperity preachers like to cut it off there.

Copeland says in her book, God’s Will Is Prosperity:

“Give $10 and receive $1000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000 . . .  give one house and receive one hundred houses or a house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane . . . In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.”

And Being Really Inflexible

Those of us not attending a mega-mammon-church that puts a big focus on giving to the ministry so that members, somehow, can get back, laugh off Copeland’s rendition of truth, and rightly so. Because of this over-the-top way of looking at things, however, other Christians — I think they’re well meaning — make it their ministry to seek out, identify, find, and shoot into little holes beloved verses that have brought great comfort to people in distress.

One of these verses is Jeremiah 29: 11:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'”

Blossom inspirational oil painting of woman in blue dress by red tree with flower by Steve Henderson

Knowing that we have some sort of hope for a future, and that God is interested in it, brings light to our lives. Blossom, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

Recently, I ran into the words of a Christian who took great pains to — actually, seemed to delight in doing so — dismantle this verse, loftily informing the addlepated puddingheads among us that the words have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with us today, as they were clearly written to the Jews exiled to Babylon, promising them that someday they (or actually their descendants) would return to their land and be blessed (and this is, indeed, the context in which the verse was written). His resulting analysis scolded readers for even thinking that they could apply this verse to their lives, much less derive any hope from it. The tone used was condescending, disdainful, supercilious, and patronizing, which is too bad, because the writer’s intentions were good (I think he’s as tired of prosperity preachers as I am), and the rest of the article was more balanced.

Out of Context

While it is true that we Christians have a lamentable habit of pulling verses out of context and using them to further our way of thinking, intelligent readers who encounter this passage in light of its context do not have to reject its potential for meaning in their lives any more than we discount Jesus’ long speech to his disciples in John chapters 14 – 18 because He was speaking to the apostles, not us. Scripture, we understand, has multi-layers of application, and as we continue to read it, meditate upon it, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and study, we will gain wisdom and discernment in how to apply it.

I know a woman who is alive today because she took seriously that promise about “a future and a hope.” She wasn’t looking for money or a car; she was looking for a reason to live. Is that such a bad message to derive from that Scripture?

It’s important to accept that, along the way in our reading of the Bible, we will make mistakes. We may put more into a verse than it can bear, or we may pull out of it much less, but the fear of doing so should not hold us back from plunging ahead in our reading, trusting to the Spirit of truth Jesus mentions in John 16: 13, to guide us. There is a subtle, or not so subtle, message out there that the average Christian isn’t educated enough, or steeped enough in Scripture, to read the Word for Himself and rely upon God to direct him in learning.

If this were true, then there would be universal agreement among the experts as to the meaning of everything in the Bible, because there are certainly enough people out there with the world’s credentials behind them to back up what they say.

Keep reading, my friend.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I have a special spot in my heart for the hapless, ordinary Christian, because that’s what I am. I don’t know about you, but I sure get tired of people telling me how much I need their expertise.

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What If You’re Too Timid to Be “Bold for Christ”?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I became a Christian at 19. For the first 25 years, I diligently attended church services, which means that I came into regular contact with Christians comfortable in that setting, and for the last eight years, I have been transitioning into a more independent state, finding fellowship with seekers and believers in alternative formats.

Black kitten photo by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Small, weak, helpless and fragile — it’s okay, and honest, to feel this way. Our God is strong. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art

What I’ve encountered, in those 33 years, are far too many Christians who feel insecure, ineffective, inferior, timorous, and apprehensive. If there is any possible spiritual fault they could have, they’re convinced they’ve got it — they don’t have enough faith (Fault Number One), they don’t read the Bible enough (actually, this one is easily solved — just read the Bible more), or this one, which sounds like a Bible verse but isn’t:

“I am not bold enough for Christ.”

Search for It

Type “be bold for Christ” into a search engine and eventually you’ll find Ephesians 6:19-20, in which Paul states,

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly (boldly) make knows the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”

Oh, yes, we sigh — I need to be bolder. That “ambassador in chains” part, however, is vaguely disquieting.

We also encounter Acts 4:29-31, in which the believers in Jerusalem prayed for courage in light of persecution from Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel:

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.”

What you will not find, however, is any verse that specifically says, “Be bold for Christ,” which is what many Christians hear from the pulpit, on TV, or in books. The end result for many is a continuous state of castigation:

Define “Bold”

“Why can’t I be bold for Christ?” (women, especially, ask themselves this a lot). “He died for me, and I’m such an ungrateful, cowardly little worm that I can’t go out and proclaim His message with boldness.”

Reflection inspirational original oil painting of young girl on beach with woman jumping in puddle by Steve Henderson

Actions don’t need to be big to be bold; the smallest steps, taken by the least powerful people, can be mighty indeed. Reflection, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Vision Art Galleries.

Well, first of all, it might be prudent to ask, what do you mean by, “being bold for Christ”?

If it involves handing religious tracts out to total strangers; or loudly announcing, “I believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ!” in your college classroom; or feeling obligated to answer questions like, “Would Jesus attend a Gay Pride Parade?” (belligerently argumentative challenges like this remind me of the Sadducees baiting Jesus with their specious questions about marriage and the resurrection in Matthew 22:23-33), then it’s understandable why you may feel a bit reluctant to jump in.

When we express misgivings about activities that we are assured are ministerial, and are then slapped with Luke 9:26 and told that we are ashamed of the Son of Man, it’s tempting to back down and acquiesce, but sometimes our reluctance to participate in an activity is because 1) it really doesn’t fit our personality at all and/or 2) our commonsense tells us that we ourselves don’t like being accosted by strangers and put on the spot, so maybe that’s why we don’t want to do it to others.

Individual Action

In a society of Christians where the majority find their meaning and identity in a corporate religious setting, it’s very easy to be pushed, prodded, pressed and compelled into doing things that somebody else — a leader, a speaker, an elder, a teacher, the Pope — deems worthy to be done — “for Christ” — and when we don’t want to do it, we are made to feel at fault.

But according to Jesus, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)

That’s a really good place to start, and believing in Him whom God has sent involves getting to know Who, and What, He is, with a logical consequence that we pick up the Bible and read about Him. Going straight to the source is always a good choice, and when each individual believer makes a commitment to learn about God, directly, from His Word, the world winds up with more and stronger believers.

Direct Communication with Christ

Once we get into the habit of dealing directly with Christ, without a human intermediary, we can then address Him with our concerns about our timidity, lack of faith, insecurity, doubts, fears, anxieties, and all the other very real aspects of being a human being. The more we know about Him and grow into loving Him, the more we will naturally talk about him — “naturally” is a key word here, because just tossing His name about as if people will pick up spiritual vibes through hearing, “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” in conversation, is one of those misconceptions that drives people into thinking that they’re not “bold enough for Christ,” when really, they’re just sensible enough to recognize artificiality when they see it.

As we commune with God in prayer, and grow in knowledge through reading Scripture, our Father will open our eyes to the things that we are uniquely set up to do for Him. This won’t seem difficult or unnatural because we are effectively living our lives, every one of our actions and words imbued with and influenced by the spirit of God that dwells within us and which we have taken time to get to know. We may decide to write a letter to the editor — not necessarily on a specific spiritual issue — but about an injustice we see, and our perspective on it.

Or we may comment, within a conversation, “I disagree with the concept that all people living in a particular country are bad, and that civilians ‘accidentally’ killed in a bombing raid are ‘collateral damage.'”

Bit by bit, we do a little more, are willing to take a slight risk, get slapped back by criticism, fall down, and lick our wounds. And then, by golly, we get up again and keep walking, keep living our lives by the truths we absorb when we study and get to know God and find that — while we may never cease being a bit afraid — we can put that fear in God’s hands, safely, and know that He won’t condemn us.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where years ago, I used to feel like a failure because I’m a quiet person, and I don’t like speaking up in group meetings. And then I realized that I spoke to, and with, people throughout the day — one on one, one on three — and that a well-placed, and genuinely meant, smile worked wonders.

God has made all sorts of people, capable of doing all sorts of things. If the only food available were chocolate chip cookies, that would get really boring — and unhealthy — in very short space of time.

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