Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

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

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We learn to love, because someone bigger, wiser, and stronger loves us first. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art.

When I was a very young child, I wanted desperately to give my mother a proper present, but being a child, I was unable to buy or make something of the quality that she deserved.

So I made regular raids into her bedroom, picking up an item that she already owned and loved, and wrapping it for her.

“Here,” I handed her an icon of the virgin Mary that I had pulled off the top of her dresser. “This is for you.”

“How delightful!” each time she accepted the gift as if 1) she didn’t already own it and 2) I hadn’t already given it to her. Some days, I gave her that icon three or four times.

Nothing Acceptable to Give

My own granddaughter, at five, does the same these days, and I regularly receive books, tea cups, and trinkets that I already own. And each time, like my mother before me, I receive them as they are intended: gifts from someone who wants desperately to give something, but has nothing acceptable to give.

So we are with God: He is the ultimate Gift Giver, the creator of everything including us, and there is nothing that we own or are that He hasn’t already supplied us with. Vaguely aware, like five-year-olds, of the disproportionate nature of our relationship, we seek to give Him something that is worthy of His receiving, only, like five year olds, we are incapable of creating anything of this quality.

“I give Him my love,”  people say. “and my worship, and my faith.”

You Didn’t Make These

That’s all fine and good, but they’re not yours, you know — we love Him because He loved us first (1 John 4: 19) and the very faith we need to believe in and trust Him generates from God Himself — John 6: 44 tells us, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him,” and Ephesians 2: 9 reminds, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”

But too frequently we do boast, attributing our feelings of love, the songs we sing, our upright and righteous external activities, as gifts that we generate from within ourselves and graciously offer to His hands. We forget that any mercy, any grace, any kindness or compassion or form of righteousness that we exhibit, are essentially items on God’s dresser that we pull off and wrap.

What do we give the Person who made everything, including our lives and our souls? Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

In John 14: 23, Jesus tells us, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Because God lives within us, we tell ourselves that we should be good, always, and if we’re not, then we’re not real Christians somehow.

But Galatians 5: 7 reminds us that “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature, They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Saved, but Sinners

We are saved, but we must not forget that we are saved sinners, and as long as we live on this earth, we will battle with our flesh. Part of this battle means that we won’t always feel worshipful, grateful, patient, and trustful of God’s compassion and love in our lives. There will be a day when we long for and ache for something so badly, so achingly, so strongly — and God remains silent — that we lash out in anger and frustration.

And then immediately chastise ourselves because we’re not supposed to feel like that.

This happened to me. I had been in a state of prayer, for a long long time, for something — a wild irrational dream that only God could put in my heart — but which He did not choose to fulfill, or take away. Standing at the edge of the beach, with the Red Sea in front of me and Pharoah’s troops behind, I gave Him the only thing I had left within me to give:

I gave Him my frustration, my anger, my hurt, my pain, my envy, my malice, my bitterness, my total and absolute distrust in His word and His nature, and I dumped it all at His feet. It was a pathetic, ugly offering, but as far as anything I could generate or make, all on my own, it was all I had. I emptied myself of myself, and asked Him to fill me with Him.

It’s in the Bible as Well as in Our Hearts

If you can’t do this, if you can’t admit that these feelings abide deep, deep within you, then be Scriptural and just read God a verse:

“Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10: 1)

“Why have you forgotten me?” (Psalm 42: 9)

“Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (Jeremiah 15: 18)

These thoughts, deep in our hearts, are no surprise to God — but until we allow Him to show them to us, we will mistakenly think that we do not have them. And we will continue to pluck gifts off His dresser, wrap them up in our own paper, and offer them back to Him, as if we had actually created them ourselves.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Just today, I read a blog by a Christian castigating herself because she was impatient in her waiting, and she wasn’t rejoicing and singing through the long, long process of nothing-really-happening that she was going through.

Waiting is hard enough. Why make it worse by trying to be someone we are not, and insisting that we intrinsically possess attributes that only God can give us, and this only through our submitting to His Son?

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Bible Reading 101

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Bible reading, like any other activity we do in life, has to fit with how we move and think. Otherwise, we don’t do it. Dancer, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print available at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

Christianity is all about being honest, and if most of us were honest with one another — say, about reading the Bible — more of us than we think would have conversations like this:

“I know I should read the Bible, but I really don’t. It bores me. It’s too hard to read.

“But I do listen to the sermon every Sunday.

“And I have a devotional that gives me a verse or two at the top, and then explains it. I do that, and it’s okay.

“Do you think God’s mad at me?”

He’s Not Mad at Us

We spend a lot of time worrying about if God is mad at us. In a Father/Child relationship on earth, this would be considered dysfunctional, but within Christianity, it is the unfortunate norm.

No, God isn’t mad at you because you don’t read the Bible, but He does want you to read it for the simple reason that you can’t know who He is and what He’s like unless you get to know Him through this Book He gave us. If you’re not into reading it on a regular basis, let’s make it easier:

Get Your Sleep

1) You don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. I know, I know, we’re “supposed” to set aside a designated Quiet Time, but if that hasn’t worked for you by now, then it probably never will. That’s not how you operate.

Me? I sit down and just read the thing, generally at night, usually with people milling about the room. We’re all quietly reading or writing or drawing or doing homework. Without my arranging it this way, an evening reading of the Bible has become part of my life, simply because I haven’t made a big deal out of it.

It’s a Book

2) Just read it. Once you mention “Bible Study,” people will foist all sorts of books on you instructing you how to do this inductively, or deductively, or whatever -ely they come up with. While you may choose, someday, to sit down with notebook and highlighter and markers and do all sorts of cross referencing and note-taking, this is not someday.

Reading is supposed to be a pleasurable activity. When it isn’t, we don’t do it. Seaside Story, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print available at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Light in the Box, and Framed Canvas Art

Yes, it’s important to grow and study Scripture deeply, but if you don’t even start because the process sounds too difficult and time-consuming, then the end result is that you’re not reading the Bible at all.

Pick a book, any book, preferably one that is fairly straightforward and easy to read: Genesis, for example, reads like a story, while Isaiah, or Job, are filled with poetry and symbolism — a bit more difficult, that. Start, literally, at the beginning and read Genesis, as if you were reading a story. Then move on to Exodus as the story continues, and feel free to skip past all the instructions for building a tent-style tabernacle. Jump around. It’s not a sin.

Notes Help

3) A Study Bible is nice – one with notes below and introductions to the individual books, giving you an idea of when the action took place and where, who wrote the book, and why. Cross referencing verses take you to passages that relate to one another.

Try to avoid Bibles with notes and commentary written by a single (or multiple, actually) celebrity Christian, since you’ll effectively be learning from one man’s (or woman’s) perspective, and that’s never been God’s intention. And even when the notes are written by a composite team (I use the 1985 New International Study Bible), remember that while the Bible is inerrant, the notes are not.

Archaic, or Contemporary?

4) Speaking of Bibles, get something you can understand. There are many people out there who swear by the King James Version, but I’m not one of them. My daily e-mail features a Bible verse in KJV, and most of the time I have to look up the verse in my NIV to figure out what is being said.

I don’t speak, or write, in thees and thous, and faced with a Book full of them, I wouldn’t read it either. At the same time, the KJV comes highly recommended for its accuracy to the original, which is more than can be said for new, cool editions replacing God the Father and Jesus the Son with gender-neutral and politically correct language in the name of making the book “easier to read.”

To some extent, the Bible will never be “easier to read,” and if you dumb it down to the third grade level, you will lose nuances, meaning, and accuracy. In your average bookstore, you’ll find a wide variety of versions. Spend a little time with each version’s introduction, researching who put it together, and, as in item 3, stay away from products with a celebrity Christian on the front.

It’s Not All About You, or Me

5) Don’t worry about applying everything you read to your personal life. While the Bible is our guide to living, not every single verse is applicable to your life and situation, and if you only read it to find these verses, you’ll miss a lot.

Read the history in the Old Testament; steep yourself in the language of the Psalms; listen, truly listen to Jesus’ words in the Gospels. What you need will come back to you when you need it.

It’s True. Really.

6) Blow your mind. Approach the Bible with this thought: “This stuff is true. It’s not symbolic, it’s not a bunch of stories, it’s not incompatible with real life, because it is real life.”

The historical elements in the Bible — the parting of the Red Sea, Elijah raising the widow’s son from the dead, Jesus feeding 5,000 people — really happened, and for many of these miracles, there is not natural explanation other than that they are miracles.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to read the Bible, and when we’re stuck on that thought, we move nowhere, and read nothing. Do what works for you, but do something.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage believers to seek God, and not worry about other people’s methods for doing so. God’s ear is inclined to our cry, and He’s not the one making everything so difficult.

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False Leaders, Speaking in Our Name

False Leaders, Speaking in Our Name

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There are sheep, and there are goats. As an owner of goats, I would have to be that there are many people whose lives give the poor animals a bad name.

In our younger years, prior to children, the Norwegian Artist and I traveled through and lived in South America, where our most fervent hope was that we would be thought to be Canadians, Danes, Australians, or anything other than Americans, for two main reasons:

1) Because of our exported media products — movies and TV shows — people were convinced that all Americans are rich and carry massive amounts of cash on them,


2) Nobody liked our president. Everything he did and said, they blamed on us.

They Don’t Speak for Us

“We are not our politicians or our media moguls,” we told those who would listen. “They speak for us as about as much as your politicians, or your guerrilla groups, speak for you.”

Sometimes, that got through, but most of the time they countered with, “But where do you park all of your cars?”


As Christians, we face a similar problem today, and again it stems from media and national icons: non-Christians judge us upon the voices of self-appointed leaders who keep cropping up, like fungus on the backside of a log, “speaking” (and writing, and selling books) purportedly for Christ.

False Prophets with a False Message

The result is the same: people who don’t know Christ (and too many who do) think He’s all about making money, and policies are being pursued, in our collective name, that we have no say in the making.

Consider this:

A week doesn’t go by these days that I don’t see this “beloved Christian leader” or that “strong voice for Christianity” off to the Vatican, meeting the Pope in my name, rejoicing about the ever-increasing inclusiveness of Christianity.

Other times, a Name and Face is at the White House, smiling and shaking hands all around, extolling a national day of prayer and reflection, encouraging us all to “join together in one voice to one God.”

Not All gods Are the Same God

Only we don’t all believe in the same God. Some people don’t believe in Him at all, others believe in gods who aren’t God –

Some people believe that mountains took millions, and billions of years to make; others believe it was a much shorter, more catastrophic process. They can agree to disagree, but they can’t say that they believe the same thing. Let’s stop being absurd. The Land of Chief Joseph, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.

“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” (1 Chronicle 16: 25-26)

But these spiritual leaders — foisted upon us and kept there because we support them by buying their products – tell the world that we are one brotherhood, one people, one big happy family under one God. Or Goddess. Or cosmic consciousness. Power within. Great Architect of the Universe. Baal. There are many names of God, you know. Does the Bible say that, quite like that? The gurus do.

Different Belief Systems Are Just That — Different

It’s not particularly popular to be labeled, “non-inclusive,” but seriously, folks, if you want to be a Muslim, you sort of have to follow their rules and read their book. If you want to belong to a Baptist Church, you accept their creed and live by it, which does not include, incidentally, loyalty to the Pope. If you want to be a Catholic, membership does include loyalty, actually submission, to the Pope. The differences between the three belief systems in this paragraph are so strong — in major theological areas — that, while we can “agree to disagree,” and can get along remarkably well with one another when Leadership Voices (political, ecumenical, corporate, and media) shut up, we cannot say that we pretty much believe the same thing, because we don’t.

Over 30-plus years of being a Christian, I have seen “Christian Leaders” come and go (sometimes it takes a long, long time, and then their son steps in and keeps it going yet another generation), but the similarity factor is this:

We may not put them there, but we keep them there.

We’re Always Reading Some Other Book

When we were still church attenders, we were regularly assaulted from the pulpit and the weekly bulletin by admonitions to join This group and read This book — entire “Bible” studies were and still are set up around a specific book, a particular name, a video, a personality, and rather than read God’s word for themselves and follow it, church members found purpose and meaning and drive and life in the words of another. And because we bought all of the guru’s products, he kept making them, and we kept funding him.

And now he — the names change but the damage does not — speaks for us on a national and international level.

Prophets — real prophets — tend to have an unpopular message because people, all people, do not want to be told that we’re on a deceptive path, we’re seeking the wrong things, and we’re worshiping idols. So, to suit our own desires, we gather around us a great number of teachers to say what our itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4: 3).

And it isn’t this:

“‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29: 9)

The next time someone approaches you with a book in their hand and thrusts it toward you with this sentence,

“You’ve GOT to read this!”

why not hold up your Bible and reply,

“Oh, that’s okay. I’m reading this.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I’m just not a groupie sort of girl. “Teamwork,” to me, does not mean giving my time and energy so that one person can be the quarterback, but rather, it looks more like being a family member — where we are all cherished and loved by our Father, and we don’t let anyone get away with taking four cookies when there’s only enough for one cookie each. (On that note, thanks, Sylvia, for the idea for this article’s ending. You’re not a guru: you’re a daughter of God and a sincere Christian. You seek, and speak, truth.)

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What Kind of People Leave Church?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

All types of people leave church, but an increasing number of them are strong Christians seeking a firmer relationship with Christ. Spirit of the Canyon, original painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print available at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

Years ago, when we still attended weekly church services, a longtime acquaintance (that’s generally what we are in church situations — we’re rarely given time to freely mingle and get to know one another as friends) left.

If you attend church, you know how this goes: Bob and Allison aren’t there one week. Probably sick, or out of town. Because we’re only longtime acquaintances, we don’t call and ask, and besides, isn’t that what the visitation committee members do? It’s their ministry.

And then another week goes by. Must be a family emergency. We’ll pray for them, when we have the time.

Another week, and another, until six months later when we think, “Bob and Allison haven’t been here for, whoa, a long time. How sad. They must have left the Lord, and they’re backsliding.”

They Leave for a Reason

What’s sad isn’t that Bob and Allison have left, it’s our reasoning of why. The people who leave are difficult. Unsatisfied. Impatient. Unrealistically expecting the church to be perfect. Weak. A problem it’s best to be rid of.

In the case of Bob and Allison, my Norwegian Artist husband decided to call one day and ask: “What’s up? It’s been a long time, and we miss you.”

“We didn’t like the way the church was feeling,” Bob answered. “It’s hard to put my finger on, but it was cold and sterile, and what attracted us initially — the friendly atmosphere that everyone was looking out for one another — was replaced by something else.”

Hopping, Shopping, and Stopping

He didn’t sound difficult or strident, just hurt. His thoughts also echoed those we had been having for a long time; he just made his move sooner. Bob, however, made his to another church: he “hopped” as some pastors condescendingly put it. When we left, we left altogether: two lifetime’s worth of church attendance had brought us to the point of acting out the answer to a statement too many people are increasingly making:

The people who walk away aren’t doing so lightly. There is much thought and prayer behind their decision. Catching the Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print available at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas.

“If this is Christianity, I don’t want any part of it.”

The good news, my friends who say this, is this: it isn’t Christianity; that’s why you’re revolting against it. You’re agitating, and kicking, and complaining, and agonizing, not because you’re weak, but because you’re strongly seeking the truth, and you’re not finding it Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday afternoon.

“The capacity of the ‘church’ to chew up and spit out people is beyond my comprehension . . . .all in the name of ‘building the church,’” a woman recently wrote me. “My husband and I have been in a weird Twilight Zone state for a couple of months, and we finally couldn’t take it anymore.”

Elders and Deacons and Ordinary Sheep

These particular backsliders both held prominent leadership positions in the church they just left. Another woman, a former deaconess whose husband served as an elder for many years, told me,

“We were pushed out. We no longer fit anymore. I resent the pastor and the new leaders because I feel as if they took our church from us.”

“That’s how I felt when we left the last church we were in,” I replied, “but then I realized, the people within the church allowed the changes to be made.”

“So they did,” she stopped, surprised.

Who are the people who are leaving the church? If you’re still in the pews, don’t pass judgment until you’ve picked up the phone, called them, and asked them why they left — not because you’re trying to get them back, not because you’ve determined that they are apostates, but because you genuinely want to know. If you haven’t noticed, more and more people are leaving — they can’t all be renegade heretics.

Why Did They Leave? Ask Them

If you are still within the church, then be awake. Stand up, speak out, don’t accept that the leaders are the shepherds and you are the sheep — we are all children of one Father, and the purpose of meeting together in a church situation is to strengthen and encourage one another, so that we can live in a world that hates us. If you’re not finding this, sitting in a Small Group circle and staring at the thighs of the person across from you (we all look fat, sitting in chairs), then go ahead, try to change it.

You may make some changes, and that’s great. You may also find that the system is set against you, and you’re tired of speaking to people who don’t listen — so you leave. Not defiantly, but generally reluctantly and sadly, because you’ve tried and you’ve tried and you’ve tried, but it’s time to do something different now and seek Christ, grow in your faith, and answer a call.

Who are the people who are leaving church? An increasing number of us are called out. And we’re answering.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where, quite frankly, I’m trying to find the people who are frustrated with a system that isn’t working, but don’t realize that they’re not the problem.

We are in the end days, my brothers and sisters, and God’s Church — the real one, not an assemblage that meets in buildings — needs to be strong and awake. Wherever you are, grow. Seek His face. Abide in His presence. Walk on the path He is showing you, regardless of how weird it looks. You may find more people on it than you ever dreamed.

If you have left a church assemblage, it is lonely, and you may feel bereft and confused. But God will lead you to other members in the family — it just won’t look the way you think it should. Do things ever, when we follow God?

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