Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Child of God: You Are Much Beloved

posted by Carolyn Henderson

In our supercilious, adult way of thinking, we often consider the world, and lives, of children to be unimportant and insignificant. This is not wise. Summer Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

My niece has a friend whose son has tumors. At a recent visit to the children’s hospital, they passed by a little girl — 3 years old — surrounded by her stuffed animals.

As my niece wrote on Facebook:

“She was joyfully telling them all how much she would miss them, (saying) goodbye and how much she loved them one by one.”

I stand in awe, bereft of speech, at the sweet innocence and trust of this child. She possesses a wisdom that is far beyond  that of many many adults — and it is not that we don’t have the capacity to see, like this little girl does. It’s that, through the years, we have buried the child within us — who represents the core essence of our being — in the words of the world.

The Value of Children

Jesus recognized the value and worth of children. His disciples were more like the rest of us, discounting their importance in the real world, shunting them to the side because they’re noisy and irrelevant. Matthew 10: 13 – 16 tells how people were bringing children to Jesus to be blessed, and the disciples were intervening, sending the children away:

“(Jesus) was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 

“‘I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.”

Children are defenseless, vulnerable, and necessarily trusting. As adults, let us remember what it feels like to be a child, and come before Christ with the freedom to be weak. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Four Spiritual Laws, or One Savior?

Ask the average American Christian how to get to heaven, and he will mention the Four Spiritual Laws, a series of Bible verses pulled from throughout the New Testament, explaining how all humans are sinners and separated from God; Jesus took the punishment for us; we need to repent of our sins and ask Jesus to save us; and Bingo, we’re saved.

Many Christians repeat the process multiple times throughout their life, generally during church alter calls, because they’re not sure they got it right the first, second, third, or twenty-second time (mea culpa — but no more — true Christianity frees a person from slavery and superstition), and I always wondered,

“If this is the ‘proper’ and ‘official’ way to become a Christian, then why didn’t Jesus lay it out Himself in a series of statements? Why do the verses have to be pulled from throughout the Scriptures?’”

What Jesus Says

Jesus did lay it out, several times, but in His Jesus-y, think-about-this way, and the verse in Matthew is one of them:

“Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Please don’t panic: this verse is meant to be an encouragement, not another obligation, and if you don’t know how to do it, think of the little girl at the head of this article:

She actually believes in heaven. She believes it’s a good place to go. And she’s one of those children that Jesus takes into His arms and holds.

So are you, my friend. At one time, you were a child, and you were vulnerable and defenseless, dependent upon the goodness and wisdom of the adults responsible for your care. Now in our society today, we like to vilify the family unit, calling pretty much everything dysfunctional and holding out our substitutes — government programs and social welfare interference — as the preferred solution, so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand what Good looks like, but what it means is this:

The Child in You Is Still There

When you were three years old, you couldn’t take care of yourself, and you needed someone bigger and stronger and wiser than you to ensure that you were fed, clothed, and warm. There was someone, somewhere, you intrinsically trusted to do this for you, and your life was in their hands. (I sincerely hope that those hands were good.)

As a Christian, you are a child of God, and although you are an adult now and know all about paying bills and meeting the property tax obligation and putting groceries on the table, you still need Someone bigger and stronger and wiser than you to ensure that you are fed, clothed, and warm. You gave your life to Him, and He holds it, and you, in His arms — and you can trust that He cares for you, and He cares about you.

His hand ARE good. If you don’t believe me, listen to the little girl.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage all of us to look for, long for, seek for Christ’s deep abiding love which He showed to those children, so many years ago. Children are a gift that God has given to a hurting world, to teach and remind us what trust, hope, faith, and joy look like.

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Angry Jesus: I Don’t Want to Follow Him, Either

posted by Carolyn Henderson

This is a vulnerable child. Although she is alone in the painting, you can bet that, out of our sight but not out of hers, is a watchful adult, making sure that she comes to no harm. Bold Innocence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I ran into a statement the other day that knocked me back on my fundament (isn’t that clever? I managed to not use the words, “butt,” or worse, “ass,” and thereby avoided offending anybody).

The discussion had to do with Jesus, and trust — or more accurately, our tendency to not trust in Him by questioning His motives and true love for us.

“It’s important to trust Jesus,” one person said. “So important, that when we don’t, He walks away from us for awhile until we come to our senses and look for Him.”

“You mean that He leaves the room?”

“Well, yes, basically. But it’s for our own good.”

Pick up Your Jaw, Please

When I told this to a friend, he — once he picked his jaw up off the sidewalk — related to me a recent event that happened at the park when he took his granddaughter to play.

“She was in the little plastic play car, her imagination driving her off to far places,” he said, “and for some senseless, ludicrous reason, I thought it would be funny to hide behind a tree. I figured that she’d laugh and call out for me.

“She didn’t. She stopped everything she was doing, and if I had been a mile away, I could have spotted the panic in her eyes. I immediately stepped out and she ran to me.

“‘I thought you’d left me,’ were her first words, and oddly, my reply was along the lines of, ‘I would never leave you or forsake you.’”

We may not physically feel His hands upon us, but they’re there — Jesus stays close and keeps us close to Him. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

You are NEVER Alone

God says that a lot, you know. Many of us know, and are comforted by, God’s words to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31: 6,

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified . . . for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

He won’t stay behind the tree, and He won’t leave the room, but we have a really, really difficult time accepting this because, in some warped way, we associate God’s discipline of us with pain, hurt, heartache, and rejection.

We Tend to Hurt One Another

Maybe it’s because, as humans, our notion of disciplining our children involves castigation and humiliation: we swipe soap in their mouths for saying a word like “fundament.” We strap them with a strop, all in the name of applying the “rod” (what are we thinking? A STICK?) We humiliate them by making them stand in a corner, in full view of everyone else in the room.

With these disciplinary techniques in our arsenal, it’s no wonder that we fear — quite literally, FEAR — God, and walk around in trepidation that our least misstep will exasperate and infuriate Him to the point that He walks out of the room so He won’t beat us up.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 11: 28-29, and before you hitch yourself to the plow and wait for the whip on your back, read the rest:

“I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Love Never Fails, or Abandons

We are human. We will mess up. We have difficulty comprehending and understanding a loving, accepting, merciful God because quite frankly, we don’t have a lot of appropriate role models to look to down here: Jesus is the ultimate role model, but it takes a lifetime of walking with Him to begin to understand just how patient He is.

The Apostle Paul prays for us in Ephesians 3: 18-19 that we will

” . . .  grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

This kind of love — it doesn’t walk away.

And it’s also not something that we can grasp, understand, or accept on our own. Jesus Himself teaches us who and what He is, and by His own words He is gentle and humble in heart.

We don’t have to be afraid of Someone like this.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I look at what we’re told and taught in the general religious marketplace, and compare it to what I see when I open my Bible. Of course I’m not right all the time — no human being is — but it’s important that individual Christians recognize our right, and responsibility, to question what we are taught, and to maintain a strong, close, vibrant, personal relationship with Christ.

He is our ultimate teacher.

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Do Negative Thoughts Affect Your Prayers?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Life consists of sunny days and rainy days, and saying that’s it’s sunny when it’s raining is just as silly as saying it’s raining when it’s sunny. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

There’s a difference between the gods of the world and the one, true, eternal God.

While that sounds like an obvious statement, it doesn’t seem so when you talk to many Christians who, purportedly, worship the latter.

A colleague of mine — a deeply committed Christian who pursues God and lives his life by His words — floored me the other day when he commented about some general matter,

“This isn’t working and we’ve been wasting our time.”

He then stopped, figuratively held his hand to his mouth, and backtracked,

“I shouldn’t have said that. It was a negative comment, and there’s no place for negative comments in our lives.”

There Are No Cookies in the Cookie Jar

Oh, Puh-leeze — if there are no cookies in the cookie jar, I’m packing our lunches for the day, and I ask the other person in the room,

“Are there any cookies in the cookie jar?”

how useful do you think the answer, “Oh, yes — there ARE cookies in the cookie jar!” is going to be to me?

There’s no way to call the statement, “There are no cookies in the cookie jar,” positive, but this doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to say it. If it’s the truth, then it needs to be said, and insisting upon the opposite doesn’t change circumstances.

The Infection of Our Minds

But we think it does. Years of inculcation from charlatans who preach — sometimes from the pulpit, often in books, on TV, from under rocks — a positive prosperity doctrine asserting that our very words have POWER, has infected the minds of too many of us, resulting in our believing in the power of our words, as opposed to the power of the Person listening to them.

“I love you.” Three powerful words we say to God, because He said them to us, first. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Don’t get me wrong, words are powerful, but in a way different than what we understand. On a tangible, physical level, words hurt and heal:

“I wish you had never been born,” is an example of hurting.

“You are precious in my sight,” is an example of healing.

The Power of Words, and the Power of God

On a spiritual level, words can, and do, unlock power, but not the power of God. Pagans throughout the centuries — and be aware that pagans aren’t necessarily people jumping around in loincloths, but anyone, including someone in a suit, who taps into the power of Mother Earth, the Goddess, the Cosmos, the Universe, the Unseen Being, basically any and all of the powers held by the prince of this world — have used, and use now, words, in a particular order, said at a particular time in a particular way, to unleash abilities beyond our own.

We so desperately want signs of the supernatural in our lives that we too easily listen to someone who glibly assures that we can get it, simply by saying the right words at the right time in the right way. So we buy the books, send in the checks, and follow the mandates of someone who says that he is a Christian and quotes enough Bible verses in rapid succession that he’s convincing — and when what he says doesn’t work, we blame ourselves, and not the falseness of the message, or the messenger.

God, the Word, doesn’t play the word game. We cannot cajole Him, control Him, beguile Him, dupe Him, or entrap Him by our words. We can only talk to Him — with our true, deep thoughts, whether they are negative or positive — and rest, gently, in knowing that we don’t have to put on a mask or a fake happy face for the Person who sees deep within our very soul.

It’s All about Trust

First Chronicles 5:20 describes God helping the Israelites out in battle (I know, that Old Testament God makes us uncomfortable — but He’s the same faithful, merciful, just, loving God we see in Jesus, and it puts things in perspective when we consider that the people the Israelites were fighting worshiped their god by roasting living human — often child — sacrifices within idols created for the purpose):

“They (the Hebrews) were helped in fighting them, and God handed the Hagrites and all their allies over to them, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.”

They “cried out,” probably not in glowing, positive terms. But it wasn’t what they said, or how they said it, that mattered. It was to Whom they said it.

Free yourself from hocus pocus. Talk to God — directly, honestly, vulnerably, privately, and trustingly. He, not your words, has the power you’re looking for.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I share with you what I read, observe, and learn. There is a huge difference between what our culture tells us is true, and what God — who transcends men’s teaching — tells us in His Word, and in His created world.

I encourage you to grab that Bible and read it for yourself, and before you ask another person what a particular passage means, ask God first. He may lead you to a footnote at the bottom of the page, or an Internet site, or a person — but sometimes, He’ll freak you out by popping a thought into your head that you know wasn’t there before, and it gets you pondering.

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Me. Me. Me. And oh, You too, Lord

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Initially, we planned to use Mia the cat for the model to Steve Henderson’s original painting, Something for Everyone. But she wouldn’t cooperate. At. All. So we rounded up Studio, one of the grey kitties that keeps the mouse population down. He deserves good things from Santa.

Like many rural dwellers, we own a number of cats, most of which are “working kitties” that keep the rodent population down and out. They enjoy twice daily meals of fresh goat milk and an occasional visit to the Manor, if they behave.

One kitty, however, is Special. A hybrid Siamese, she looks different, and prettier, than the grey masses of other feline fare, and from the beginning she has lived a life of relative ease. While technically still an Outside Kitty, she begins her day each morning by clawing to the top of the front door and peering through the little windows. (By the way, if you’ve heard that Siamese cats have a reputation for intelligence, you’ve heard right; intelligence in a cat, however, is vastly overrated, and difficult on the front door.)

Because I’m well trained, I rush immediately to let her in, which she does, with a thump to the floor.

(This might be a good time to mention that her name is Mia — Meeeeee-uh — living with her convinces me daily that there are no accidents to names.)

Me. Me. Me. Mia.

First things first: she heads to the closet where the food bag is, sits in front of the door, and expectantly stares. If you don’t get the message immediately, she brushes lovingly against your legs, purring, and giving that “come hither, NOW, Stupid,” look from her blue eyes. She can keep this up for a long, long time — to the point that even the initiated are fooled into thinking that she likes you.

Mia is happiest when she is in the house, and we are outside of it. Sometimes, I fall into the trap of treating God that way — but He loves me so much that He won’t let that situation stand! Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed, open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

But she doesn’t. All she wants is that door open, and once it is, she’s gone — burrowed deep inside the bag of cat food for a free-feeding session.

Every morning, I give in, something that the Norwegian Artist — who refuses to open the closet door on principle — observes with a sigh and a shake of the head.

“You do know, don’t you, that Mia doesn’t care for you at all?”

Yes, I do. We all have to be eccentric about something.

Spiritual Lessons from a Cat

This morning, when I opened the closet door for Mia, I looked deep in her eyes and thought,

“You’re like me, actually, dealing with God. I don’t want to take time with Him, I don’t want to rest in His arms and let Him love me — I just want Him to open the closet door so that I can jump in the bag and start free feeding.”

In other words, I want the answers to my prayers and the solutions to my problems — first. Afterwards, when I am surfeit with food, I’ll spend some time with Him, unless, of course, like Mia I just want to head up to the master bedroom, alone, and sleep all day.

But that’s not good enough for God: He wants me — all of me — and He wants me to hope and trust in Him, not hope and trust in the answers to my problems. Those answers will come, and generally in a different form than what I am expecting, but if I spend all my time hoping in the answer as opposed to hoping in the Person who gives the answers, I will be disappointed.

Hope in the Person, not the Things

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them,” Jesus tells us.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33)

The really, really difficult part about living this last verse is seeking first without focusing, in the back of my mind, on the “give it to me” second half. It is disturbing how much I resemble Mia, and not because I sport such a distinctively beautiful coat.

God’s grace is sufficient for me. I don’t know how, but quite fortunately, He does.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. As a writer and the manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art, I wear a lot of hats and do a lot of things, but my favorite activity, hands down, is writing this column. I feel as if you, the reader, and I, the writer, are sitting down and chatting, and when you are so good as to take time and leave a comment, I am delighted.

Wherever you are in your walk with Christ, keep walking — you’re getting somewhere. If you feel dissatisfied because you want a deeper, truly different looking relationship with God than what you have now, be encouraged — feeling frustrated is a good sign that we’re not satisfied with the status quo. Complacency and apathy are definitely worse than frustration.

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