Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Five Steps to Achieving Your Impossible Dream

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Ending the Day on a Good Note original oil painting with 1940s inspirational girl taking off hat next to gramophone by Steve Henderson

Part of achieving a dream generally involves simplifying our lives — a difficult concept in 21st century U.S. culture Christianity. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Sixteen years ago, my husband the Norwegian Artist and I had an improbable dream: we wanted to find a place in the country and raise our kids there.

I say improbable because 1) we had four kids and 2) we lived on one extremely moderate income. Most people we knew had half the amount of progeny and twice the number of jobs, and they were barely making it: lower middle class families with too many children need not apply for improbable dreams.

But the dream wouldn’t go away. Early in our search, we found the perfect piece of land, unfortunately beyond our economic reach. Today, however, I write you from our house — mortgage free — set on that exact piece of land. The realization of this dream achieved impels me through the next stage of my life because — you guessed it — we’ve got another wildly improbable dream in our lives, and we are approaching it with a similar mindset.

If you’re like us, and you’ve got a dream that won’t go away, maybe these five thoughts will help:

Pray

1) Talk to God about it. As soon as you mention a strong desire, someone is sure to say, “God puts those dreams in our hearts!” and while this is a sentiment you can find in a Joel Osteen statement, it’s not necessarily in the Bible.

What is in the Bible is that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. (Psalm 37:4) It’s the specifics, frequently, that need to be worked out:

She Danced by the Light of the Moon woman girl with cloth by Grand Canyon inspirational original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Stop trying to look, and act, like everyone else already. It never succeeds. Do things your own unique way. She Danced by the Light of the Moon, original oil painting; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas and Framed Canvas Art

“To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord come the reply of the tongue.” (Proverbs 16: 1)

In other words, we can trust God to understand, more than we do, those deep, aching desires that simply will not go away — and to bring them to a fulfillment far more profound than anything we can imagine. Give your dream to God, and ask Him to walk you through it, step by step.

Be Unconventional

2) Don’t go about things in the expected manner. In our search for a country home, we knew we couldn’t afford the typical way of doing things: take out a loan on an existing house and spend 30 years paying it off. No bank would loan us that much — or, if they would (as they did prior to the 2007 housing bubble debacle) we at least had sense enough to know this was financially foolish.

Instead, we lived simply before it was fashionable, saving every penny and dime while our peers bought multiple cars and went out for dinner. When the sellers of the land we wanted, incessantly in need of money, split the property in two and raised the price on each — we snatched up the half-piece, with enough saved money to pay most of the purchase price. A bare land loan from a small local bank did the rest.

We built our house by sweat equity with a contractor who trained us to do a lot of the work ourselves. In the two years it took to get it livable, all six of us shared 1,000 square feet of rustically renovated barn living space. People — including many Christians — observed that we were “different” from anyone else they knew:

“Do not conform any more to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12: 2). This verse can be practically, as well as spiritually, applied.

Limit Your Networking

3) Share your dreams, with others, on a limited basis. There’s a fine line between telling enough people so that they can keep a lookout for opportunities, and laying your soul’s aches before, well, swine:

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7: 6)

Three Horses inspirational oil painting of grazing in the mountains by Steve Henderson

While we wait, God feeds our souls, minds, and spirits. Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

There were a few friends and acquaintances we never told about our country dream, and even after we moved away we didn’t provide comprehensive updates. While they were nice people, they were also depressing ones, convinced that their ministry in life is to inform others how foolish they are to hope outside of convention, and delighting in pointing out obstacles that we were already well aware of. Today, with our new dream, very, very few people know the specifics.

Wait

4) Things take time.

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3: 25)

I hate waiting as much as the next person, but life goes on, and while we pursue what we can, step by step doing whatever is set before us, we also interact with our family, fix dinner, and feed the cats. The time spent waiting is not fruitless, and just because we can’t see results doesn’t mean that God isn’t working. If nothing else, waiting gives us time to grow, mature, change and adapt — as does our dream, when we continually give it back to God.

Trust

5) With God, all things are possible. (Matthew 19: 26)

If you wrote out all the obstacles to fulfilling this aching dream of yours, it would probably fill pages. While the difficulties may seem daunting, remember that you are not doing this on your own. Considering that your every breath is dependent upon God’s giving it to you (“In his hand is the life of every creature, and the breath of all mankind,” Job 12: 10), recognize that every aspect of your life is known, intimately, to God.

He can do anything, including getting you through all this.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. You know, those prosperity preaches are rich for a reason — because their message tickles our ears and tells us what we want to hear. But this keeps us spiritually weak.

Our strength comes from depending upon God and God alone — reading His word, listening for His voice, leaning upon Him for every single breath we take.

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Feeding Marshmallows to Our Minds

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Child of Eden inspirational oil painting of girl holding radishes with green hat by Steve Henderson

Growing a garden, even a small one, is something many of us can do, even if our only plot space is a window box. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

When I was growing up, I heard the mantra, “You are what you eat!” all the time.

It’s not said so much these days, which is ironic since much of what we eat is grown with pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides; processed with chemical additives and preservatives; and tinkered with genetically and medically. If we are what we eat, it’s no wonder that so many of us are sick.

While we may or may not believe that we are what we eat, it should be fairly obvious that what we read — online, in newspapers, magazines, books, and those wretched medical publications that the hospitals, insurance agencies, and government departments send out — affects how and what we think.

“Christian Literature”

Some Christians have used this concept as the springboard for denouncing any literary endeavors outside of “Christian books,” which range from non-fiction fare (“Empower Your Christian Visionary Identity with Purpose, Drive, and Intention”) to blandly benign, benevolent fiction featuring sweet Amish girls from the 19th century solving mystery stories on the farm. I ran into one riveting modern romance with prose and dialogue like,

“He held her gently, breathing in the aroma of her hair.

“‘The Lord will bring us through all this,’ he said reassuringly.

“‘I know,’ she responded, wide eyed, ‘Jesus is true and good.’”

It’s not that it’s “Christian-based” so much that it is poorly written, designed for a small, lucrative audience that buys what it’s told to buy. But that’s okay, because much of what passes for secular literature these days is mind-numbingly bad as well. As a lifetime reader who looks for an incredible story, plus realistic dialogue, interwoven with skillful writing and an imaginative plot, I find myself going back to Dickens, Bronte, Austen, Twain, even Agatha Christie in my efforts to escape The Teatime Murders at the Knitting Shop series, or the Granite Jackson Does Consistently Amazing Things adventure books, or Vampire and Zombie Sexcapades written for women between the ages of 15 and 50.

Really Low Standards, These Days

My last pathetic effort to find a decent suspense story involved severed body parts, humorously addressed in wretchedly bad hyperbole. I used to make fun of my father for the trashy spy novels that he inhaled, but reading them through as an adult I had to admit, they were well written trashy spy novels.

Ending the Day on a Good Note original oil painting with 1940s inspirational girl taking off hat next to gramophone by Steve Henderson

After a long day, kick off your shoes, relax in the chair, close your eyes, and meditate. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Quality is down, quantity is up, and that’s just fiction. Within the non-fiction realm we have celebrities and politicians churning out their auto-biographies (oh, more fiction, I guess), the ubiquitous How to Be Rich by Buying My Book, and, of course, the daily “news.” I talked with a young man who spent five months in Alaska last year, far away from newspapers, TVs, Internet, and radios, and he commented,

“I thought I would have missed everything going on in the world, but when I came back, we were still in Afghanistan, people were murdering one another in New York and Chicago, and citizens were being aggressively badgered by police officers for filming the latter’s activities on their phones. I didn’t miss anything at all, and indeed, I was happier.”

You are what you read, and when what you read involves severed body parts, medical adjurations to get this invasive screening procedure by this time in your life, and vitriolic diatribes by loud conservative talk show hosts telling you how to think about current affairs, it gets old. While I definitely advocate keeping up on true news by finding an alternative source that isn’t owned by the six major companies that control U.S. media, rest your mind by being more selective in what you read: in other words, don’t subsist on mental Twinkies. Make a salad — out of organic greens — and train your mind to crave good, pure, chemical-free mind food.

The Bible’s a Book — Why Don’t We Read It?

The best place to start for this — and one of the last resources too many Christians use — is the Bible. This is pure, unadulterated truth, and after the day’s assault of celebrity botox faux pas and the latest terrorist hype, we need a break from the violent, greedy, grasping, selfish, loathsome world of men.

Granted, the Bible talks about that world a lot, but in a manner that keeps us from despair. Some commentators call the Psalms shockingly outspoken, but personally I find the verses that say bad people will get what’s coming to them, some day, quite reassuring. Other verses talk about how, some day, the little people — the ones being hurt — will be comforted.

The message is completely opposite of most of the other stuff we read, with anti-heroes both fictional and real, and it’s worth spending time reading the book with pleasure and anticipation. Don’t always just study it; read it — make the Bible part of your daily mental diet, and tell yourself that you’re smart enough to read it, and understand it, on your own.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage Christians to read, read, read the Bible for themselves, and believe, believe, believe what’s in it.

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What Is Backsliding, and Are You Doing It?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Golden Sea sailboat painting on yellow and orange water original oil painting by Steve Henderson

In the waters of life, Jesus — not men with loud, strident voices — is the one who commands the wind and the waves. Golden Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Too many of us are acquainted with the word, “backsliding,” which, in its purest form, means to lose one’s resolve to follow a chosen path. A recovering alcoholic who re-enters the bar circuit is an example — surrounding oneself by temptation, and resuming behavior that one is trying to overcome, isn’t a particularly successful business plan.

Within Christianity, backsliding applies, theoretically, to believers who no longer walk the narrow path of following Christ, reading His word, listening to His voice — in essence, being His disciples and serving Him as master. I say theoretically, because in the real life of too many people, backsliding is defined not by God but by other human beings, who establish a system of customized rules for determining what is, and isn’t, a genuine walk with God.

No Church, No God

For example, in many Christians’ eyes, not attending church is a clear sign that one is backsliding since (and this structural phrasing of the argument is extremely common):

“If you really loved God, then you would attend church.” Ergo, that you don’t attend church is evidence that you don’t love God.  Alternative options, such as your being tired of the corporate religious system that passes for spirituality these days, and opting to go another way, are impermissible.

Here are some more:

“If you really love God (and are a true Christian),

“You will speak in tongues.”

“You will never doubt. You will never feel fear or anxiety.”

Grace woman young girl in pink dress dancing on ocean beach original oil painting by Steve Henderson inspirational

Steve called this painting Grace, because the woman is happy, free, secure in knowing that she is loved. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

“You will tithe, faithfully, to your church even if you don’t have enough money for groceries this month. That you don’t have enough money is evidence of your lack of faith.”

“You will not sin.”

“You will feel joyful.”

“You will not swear.”

“You will not be tempted to drink, smoke, or break any law found in the Old Testament, or unwritten — but understood — by the ‘Christian community.’”

It goes on, but the upshot is, if you do not adhere to either 1) selective laws of the Old Testament and/or 2) the silent rules and regulations put forth by the voices of authority talking at you once, or more, each week, then you are said to be backslidden. And once you are backslidden, you are considered damned.

The Caressing Hand That Slaps

On the gentler end, backsliders are considered lesser Christians, while the more extreme view (which I fervently hope is rare) is expressed in this excerpt I stumbled upon at a Yahoo Answers site:

“God hates to see people’s back sides, and when He does, He usually gives them a good quick hard stiff KICK in the butt that sends them sprawling back into the slime pit from which they came for another good bellyful of it, hoping they’ll get so sick of it THIS time, they’ll never look back at it again!”

Is it any wonder that people have so much trouble grasping, understanding, hanging onto, and believing in the love of God when we are so adept at distorting it?

Okay, let’s spit out the bile from that kick butt paragraph, take a sip of water, and consider this statement from FlyALittleHigher.com, which posted this Facebook meme:

“While I had chosen to trust God, to hope rather than despair, fear still reared up inside of me. The practical part of trusting God is hard and takes practice.”

Life. Is. Excruciatingly. Difficult.

The Love, not Hate, of Christ

Every single human being battles individual temptations and life circumstances, armed with an emotional, physical, and spiritual make-up that is unique to each one of us. While Jesus alone is able to get into the soul of another human being, and understand why that person thinks, acts, and lives the way he does, this doesn’t stop us from bursting in, and stating, explicitly, to others, what they must and must not do to be a true follower of Jesus.

This is why we need to read Scripture for ourselves, growing in wisdom and becoming adept in learning what the Word says, thereby freeing ourselves from relying upon others to interpret it for us. I’m sure it’s no surprise that there are a whole lotta wrong interpretations out there.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 11: 28-30. “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for 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.”

Our Teacher is gentle, not harsh; meek, not arrogant; forgiving, not delighting in seeing us squirm in the slime pit into which His well-placed kick landed us. When you start reading for yourself, begin with this verse: close your eyes and absorb the meek, gentle, and rest for your souls, part.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I seek to separate truth from myth. Obviously, I’m not infallible, but if being perfect were the requirement for us to embark upon any endeavor, then none of us would be doing anything.

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Are You Qualified to Study the Bible?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
Promenade girl in blue dress with parasol walking in garden oil painting by Steve Henderson

It takes a lot of skill to paint the human figure, and not many artists can actually do it. Some who can, choose to not do it by choice; but many who cannot, use that same statement. Promenade, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

We live in a time and place of people fascinated by degrees, credentials, and man-made accolades, to the point that, when unimaginative employers look for people to fill the cubicles, they are more concerned with a person’s university background than they are with any ability to actually perform the work required.

(As an aside, these same professional job recruiters, who no doubt have degrees in Professional Job Recruiting, creep people’s Facebook and social media accounts, more concerned with how much wine someone drank on Friday night, than that they know the difference between him and me and he and I. So they hire teetotalers who consistently write, “Her and me talked to he and they and said that they’re business model was to unsustainable.”)

Artists Should Know How to Draw

As you may know when you read my articles and look at the artwork, I am married to a professional fine artist, Steve Henderson. Whether or not you like representational art, you have to admit that the guy knows how to draw a face so that it looks like an actual person, as opposed to an 8-year-old’s interpretation of it. As far as university degrees go, he has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), which on a personal level means that it took years of practice and study to transcend the misinformation and poor teaching he paid so much to experience, and on a professional level that he cannot instruct at the college, university, or even high school level, because he doesn’t have enough education.

Whether or not he can actually paint, draw, or create a piece of fine art of excellence is not the issue.

The funny part of this is that, in several private workshops Steve has given, more than one of his students has been a university-accredited professor, taking his class because he or she is untrained and unskilled in the artistic discipline. Once Steve was told,

“I’m supposed to teach a watercolor class next semester and I’ve never done watercolor. I hope I learn enough in this workshop to pass it on to the students!”

I’m sure I don’t need to point out the irony of this situation.

The Worship of Degrees

But this is the world we live in, the world of men who set up systems and require people to fill out forms, and take classes, and endure seminars, and undergo sensitivity training, so that a new generation can get the job and pass on the lack of knowledge that they received themselves. Ultimately, it is not whether or not one can actually perform the work for which one was trained — cut hair, practice medicine, teach art, or know the difference between you’re and your — it’s whether one has the piece of paper saying that one is appropriately licensed to do so.

Lady of the Lake woman in yellow sheer skirt and hat standing by water original oil painting by Steve Henderson

Because humans are not goats, or rock fish, we were born with the ability to think, reason, learn, meditate, pray, and read. Let’s use those skills. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Within conventional, establishment Christianity — the kind overwhelmingly and depressingly practiced in countries like the one in which I was born and live, the United States — we are not immune to this fascination with education, and even the smallest, rural churches point with pride to their Pastor with the PhD, convinced that, because of his advanced seminary education and ability to name drop Greek and Hebrew words, he knows so much more than the rest of them.

(More likely, he knows how to use Strong’s Concordance and a lexicon, resources available to any of the rest of us.)

License to Study?

While we are not required, yet, to undergo licensing to study the Bible for ourselves, the subtle pressure is there among us, as church congregants are firmly encouraged to join small groups, under the shepherding aegis of an approved leader who walks them, step by agonizing step, through workbooks, worksheets, and pop-culture books by pop-culture preachers expostulating about Jesus, the Bible, and the abundant, purposeful, intentional and missional life we are supposed to be living.

“You’re reading the Bible by yourself, without any commentary or notes at ALL?”

I’m not sure if this is a mortal sin or a venial one, but increasingly, it is something we are not encouraged to do because, you know, if you’re not guided by an expert, you may get something wrong, and that could be very, very scary – maybe even resulting in a generation of Christians believing that, if only they say the right words and tap into an inner power, they can get anything they want.

Dumb Fishermen

At times like this, it’s good to remember that the pillars of our faith, the ones who started the whole Jesus message and died for it, were ordinary people — many of them fishermen — and none of them with PhDs with an emphasis in Biblical counseling or Media Arts and Worship. Despite not having written a doctoral thesis on church growth, they managed to successfully teach others the best news the world has ever had, and the consistent message was not, “Go ye forth and get a degree,” but, “Tell everybody about Jesus Christ, who He is, and what He did.”

They had what all Christians — regardless of the letters after their name or a certificate attesting that they completed an in-house church leadership seminar — have: the Holy Spirit as our guide and teacher, living within us:

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14: 25)

Take Him at His word, literally. Read the Bible for yourself. Pray — privately — to God. Trust that He will teach you, and stop relying upon any other human being to do your thinking, or live your Christian life, for you.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where my message is consistently that individual Christians stand up tall and think for themselves.

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