Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

The Wrong Gospel and How It’s Chasing People out of Church

posted by Carolyn Henderson

An increasing number of people are opting to walk a different, truly narrow path, as they search for the truth. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and amazon.com.

I know a lot — a LOT — of people who were raised in a church, no longer attend, and want nothing to do with God.

Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist — it doesn’t matter the appellation, these people are on the run from memories and experiences unrelated to any form of hope, peace, joy, or love. The stories are different, but one commonality is a desire to have nothing to do with the God they were raised with – He’s never satisfied with anything they do or say, and since He’s so hard to please, why bother?

A Survivor’s Story

Recently, I talked with a survivor from this experience — this man is unusual because, while he walked away from his religious background, he didn’t walk away from God. It has taken years, and there are years yet to go, he says, but slowly he has been separating the God of church from the God of the Gospel.

“When I was growing up, it was all God, and that was the problem,” he told me. “God was everywhere, all the time, and we couldn’t get away from Him.

“I took notes to school excusing me from dancing in P.E. because God disapproved. He didn’t want us to go to movies. We couldn’t play cards. Women couldn’t wear make up, cut their hair, or wear pants. Laughing too much was wrong.

“The only thing we could do was go to church — Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, Thursday afternoon, and then we cleaned the church Saturdays for services the next day. We passed out tracts. We only read ‘Christian’ books and listened to ‘Christian’ music.

“Life was all God, and yet it wasn’t God at all.”

The God of Guilt

For many people, the God of the Gospel is the God of Guilt, and the essence of the good news is that those who follow Him won’t burn eternally in Hell. Until they utter a swear word, that is, or think a bad thought, or deliberately miss a church service, at which point their salvation is on hold until they repent and God accepts them back into His arms.

Is it any wonder that people reject this message?

The good thing is that they do. The bad thing is that, so entwined is God with this message, when they walk away from the falseness of man’s teaching, they run away from God. Many of the people I know, deeply spiritual, seek to fill their soul by the latest self-help book, or viral Facebook post about someone coming back from a near death experience and telling them about the Love they encountered.

They are desperate to know that there is some form of Loving Presence out there, and that this Presence cares about them.

Seeking Elsewhere

Because the Bible has been mis-used and misquoted, they rarely look there, depending, instead, upon the words of others — others who are making a lot of money with their words. These prolific writers and pop-positive-speakers encourage acolytes to look within, tap into the power of self, connect with the cosmic consciousness, more of the wrong gospel, but one that at least promises a shot at acceptance.

Human nature is such that we will keep looking, and looking, and looking until we find what we crave. Many who crave God have been given the wrong impression of who He is. Girl in a Copper Dress 2, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and amazon.com.

I was fortunate. Raised in a home with Catholicism on one side and atheism on the other, I spent little time in church, and what I learned about God I found in a series of booklets that put Biblical history in story form. As a young adult, I read about God in a Bible written in contemporary English, and I liked what I saw.

When I left Catholicism to become a Protestant (my uncle told me I would burn in hell), I was alert to rules and regulations in my new church home. In Catholicism, the rules are many, varied, and vast, but pretty clearly stated (go to mass, go to confession, bless the pope); in Protestantism they are more subtle, but similar (go to Bible study, be “accountable” to others, obey the pastor).

Either Way, I Go to Hell

Years later, and after too many Sundays of trying to conform, I left establishment Protestantism’s weekly obligations — revolted by the system’s increasing  similarity to the cubicle world of contemporary business culture. “Brothers” and “sisters” shook their heads and said I was heading to hell, because I obviously was never a Christian. I walked away from their rules and regulations and picked up the Bible, determined to read it for myself.

And I walked straight into the arms of God.

My friend, if you left church because your experience mirrors that of the man I quoted above, you’ve done an understandable thing: you rejected what was false because you’re looking for what is true.

Finish the job: look for God, the real one you didn’t find.

An excellent resource to find out more about Him is in the book He wrote. Read it for yourself. Ask Him to explain it to you. Don’t give up.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Jesus tells us in John 8: 31-32,

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

I am experiencing that promise of freedom. I write to encourage others to seek it out, demand it, and experience it, too.

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Praying for Something BIG? Five Points to Ponder

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When the distance between Point A and Point B seems to great, and there’s a canyon in between, the only One who can get us to the other side is God. Daybreak, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

We serve a God who does impossible things. Abraham’s wife, Sarah, had a baby when she was 90 years old (Genesis 18, 21). The Israelites escaped the Egyptians by walking through the parted Red Sea — with the pursuing Egyptians drowning when the waters crashed back together (Exodus 13, 14). The walls of Jericho fell on the seventh day, after the Hebrews walked around the city seven times, blew a trumpet, and shouted (Joshua 6).

We haven’t even mentioned Jesus and all the many miracles He performed.

God, and Only God

The point is, with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19: 26), and He wants us to call upon Him in our day of trouble (Psalm 50: 15). So when we’ve got a problem, a BIG problem, God assures us that we can confidently approach Him with it:

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.” (1 Peter 3: 12/Psalm 34: 15)

However, as you probably know, it’s never as easy as it sounds. When you’re calling on God for the impossible in your life, do it with confidence, but do it also with wisdom:

Give Him Free Rein

1) Don’t box God in to a specific way of answering. From our perspective, the answer looks simple: we need THIS job, or THAT amount of money (many of our requests have to do with finances); healing from a disease; or relief from an oppressor.

1 John 5: 14 says, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” While our initial response is to kick the soda can and say, “Dang. He always wants what I don’t,” trust that He sees your tears and “knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6: 9)

Walk

2) You’ve got work to do.

Psalm 5: 8 says, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness . . . make straight your way before me.” The implication is that we’re walking, not sitting, and when we face even insurmountable problems, there’s usually something we can do:

When God parted the Red Sea, the Israelites walked through it. If there’s something you CAN do, then do it. Daydreaming, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

If we don’t know anything about buying a car, we can ask a friend if they know a mechanic who can accompany us to the car lot. If we need money, lots of it, we generally can cut, trim, adjust, and finesse our budget more than we ever thought we could. If we’re in chronic pain and no doctor will tell us why, we search, research and don’t give up.

Even if you think the Red Sea is at your back, stand up, adjust your pack, and check the livestock. If there is any task you are given to do, do it.

Ditch the Stopwatch

3) Don’t slap a time limit on God.

The surest way of feeling discouraged, despairing, and angry is to give God an ultimatum. Even if you’ve got one — the rent is due on THIS day — you have no choice but to trust that He knows this and will work accordingly. Frequently, however, we don’t have a time limit, other than our (natural) impatience to get this problem behind us so that we can move on to better things.

“The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3: 19, 21-22, 25-26)

Waiting is never easy. It’s also generally not optional.

A Bit Too Social Media

4) Quantity is not quality. By all means, ask people to pray for you – “Pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” (James 5: 16)

Think twice, however, before you do a mass crowd posting on Facebook, an unrestricted tweet on Twitter, or a universal networking on Linked In, reasoning that, the more people speaking on you behalf — even if they’re total strangers —  the more God HAS to listen.

“If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18: 19)

That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? But how comforting to know that you don’t have to be the most popular kid in the class to get God to listen to you.

A Cry from the Heart

5) It’s not so much what you say, how you say it, or how often you repeat it. Ultimately, prayer involves trust.

“When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6: 9. Interestingly, in this entire passage on prayer (Matthew 6: 5- 14), “Pray” is mentioned six times, but so is the word, “Forgive.”

Remember the verse in point one, “If we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”? It looks like a significant part of God’s will is that we forgive others.

Life isn’t easy, my friend, and sometimes it’s hard to see how our Christianity helps us through it. But God is our ever-present help in trouble, and those troubles are a means for us to acknowledge our own weakness, and rely on His strength.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I am learning about prayer in real time. God is gracious, and when we seek Him, we find Him, and when we ask Him for wisdom, He gives it to us.

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Is Your “Personal Relationship with Jesus” Dysfunctional?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

It is possible to find peace in our lives and our various relationships, and we are more likely to find it from God, than we are from men. Along the Salmon River, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Dysfunctional relationships are all the rage these days. Thanks to a satiety of psychology (“Christian” and secular), self-help books, surreality talk shows, and overreaching government agencies fumbling about our private lives, we’re convinced that there’s no such thing as a normal relationship.

Of course there are abnormal relationships — and the more chemicalized we become in the food we eat and the medicine we ingest, the more problems we can expect, externally initiated. At the same time, there are many more normal relationships than what we acknowledge. It’s easy to forget this when we’re bombarded by unsolicited taxpayer-funded, slick brochures like the one coiled in my mailbox, slithered from the stealthily created “Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery.”

Fixer-Upper People

Seriously? I’d rather rely on wise words from Oprah. Not likely, for me. I’d learn more from Johnny Carson re-runs — he didn’t purport to fix up my life; he just made me laugh.

Too many people these days are

1) ready to identify our lives, personalities, and relationships as dysfunctional

and

2) poised to “fix this” for us — most notably when we buy their books, tune in to their shows, and send them our check. Lamentably, this includes our relationship with Christ, one that has the potential to be pure, rich, joyous, unadulterated, fully functional — and all of this for free, incidentally, because once we’ve plunked down the funds for our Bible, all we have to do is read it.

Stop Reading about the Book and Read the Book

But we don’t. Rather, we read books about Jesus, and about what He says in the Bible, and we listen to speakers telling us about how Jesus wants us to live, and we never actually communicate with Christ Himself to discover whether what we read and what we hear is accurate.

Here’s a short list to consider when determining whether what we’re absorbing is toxic or not:

He Was More than a Great Teacher

1) “You shall have no other gods before me.” Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, this passage from Exodus 20: 3 is the first commandment.

Whatever book you’re reading to learn how to deal with life, it’s detritus when it refers to Jesus as “a great enlightened teacher of 2,000 years ago,” and equates His words with that of a Zen Buddhist master.

Our relationship with Christ involves a lot of thinking — about Who He is and what He says, as opposed to what others tell us about Him. Queen Anne’s Lace by Steve Henderson. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas. iCanvasART, and amazon.com.

It’s not that the Zen man has no wise words, it’s that the author you’re reading puts him on the same level as God, or rather, lowers Christ to the level of a mere man.

Paying for “Secrets”

2) “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33: 3)

How many speakers, authors, teachers, and self-described spiritual masters promise secret and hidden information, difficult to find or understand without their guidance?

The truth in the Bible is accessible to all of us — for free — through reading, thinking (many self-help books encourage us to, “empty our minds”), and prayer. Too easily we believe that the “real” message has been revealed to a select, privileged few, who generously offer to “share” this with us, for a fee, of course.

Don’t Be Gullible

3) “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4: 1)

Far too many Christians unquestionably believe stories of near death experiences, encounters with angels, visions, and audible instructions from God by people claiming that others need to listen to what they say, because God works specially through them.

If God is working specially through anyone, then the message will point directly back to — and glorify — God, not the speaker. This is rarely the case.

God’s Power, not Yours

4) “To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his.” (Job 12: 13)

It’s popular these days to talk about “focusing upon power within,” “tapping into the inner self,” or “unleashing our hidden strength,” but if you’ve got the idea that these are synonyms for the Holy Spirit within you, disabuse yourself of this notion. God’s power is not accessible to us upon our demand, and you won’t get any farther, any faster, in your prayers by visualizing; working yourself into a trance; repeating a particular sound or word; or declaring, announcing, or proclaiming.

Since this is effectively pushing God around, setting ourselves up in His place, it’s highly likely that you will get no response – and that’s the good news. It’s wise to remember that many popular spiritual “techniques” aren’t new at all, but shrouded in the darkness — and occult — of time.

Jesus tells us to ask, seek, and knock, and we will receive, find, and have the door opened for us. It’s simple, yet complex, but requires nothing more than that we trust Him. You don’t need a seminar, a workbook, another book, or an hour with a speaker on TV — you just need time, alone, with Jesus.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I do my small part in waking people up to the deceit that pervades the very air we breathe.

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We Say It All the Time, but What Does It Mean to “Follow Jesus”?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

It is a misconception that we learn from our peers. We learn from someone wiser than we. Into the Surf, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Amazon.com

We Christians have a lamentable habit of using esoteric language, which is an erudite way of saying that we speak phrases understood by a small, like-minded group of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.

Given that the gift of Christ is meant for everyone in the world, it’s a habit we might think about breaking, but before we do so, we need to figure out if we know what we’re talking about, ourselves.

For instance, what is the “good news” of the gospel? Can we encapsulate it in a sentence or two?

And what does “accepting Christ” mean?

Following Jesus — How?

Here’s an easier one, because Jesus said it so much Himself: following Jesus. What does it mean?

Well, maybe it’s not so easy, simply because Jesus said it so many times. Like this, in Matthew 16: 24 (cross referenced in Luke 9:23, Mark 8: 34),

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Quite honestly, that doesn’t sound particularly fun or safe, but following Christ comes at a cost, most notably ourselves. Those who follow Christ are to be less concerned with their self-image, self-confidence, self-importance, self-identity and self-actualization than they are with the words of Christ, and His care and love for others.

This goes a bit against contemporary pop psychology, which has unfortunately crept into the church and curled up in one of the corner pews, assuring us that we can’t love others until we focus on loving ourselves. I don’t recall Jesus ever mentioning anything along those lines.

Sheep, not Sheeple

He did say, however, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10: 27)

So we’re sheep. Not the most intelligent of animals, and ones prone to follow the leader. We know people who borrowed a ram for procreational purposes. Unfamiliar with the layout of their land, the male guest trotted over the edge of a bridge spanning the river on their property, and was promptly followed by all one dozen of the ewes. It’s a good thing that it was a short bridge, and a small river.

Jesus frequently used animals as examples in his parables and stories. Rumination, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold.

But this shows the hazards of following the wrong leader, which would be, essentially, anybody but Christ. His voice is written down for us in Scripture, and if you have a Bible that lists Jesus’ words in red — or green, or purple — you can jump from passage to passage and just see what He says.

Doing Battle as Cattle

If it starts to seem overwhelming, linger at Matthew 11: 28-30, where Jesus invites us to,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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.”

Now we’re oxen. They’re bovines. But before we get insulted, recognize that a “yoke” of oxen frequently refers to two beasts, side by side. If we’re one of those creatures, then Who is the other?

. . . and Tax Collectors

Luke 5: 27-33, Matthew 9: 9-12, and Mark 2: 14-17 all tell about the calling of Levi, the tax collector, whose Greek name was Matthew (whom we know as one of the twelve apostles). The Pharisees, who tended to be offended by most of what Jesus said and did, expressed indignation that so many of these slime bags and sinners were “following” Jesus, to which He replied:

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Many of us who have been Christians for awhile are in danger of thinking of ourselves as righteous (which we are, in and under Christ) — but we forget that all of us, before we made the decision to follow Him and “become fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 19),  lived the life of sinners, and that Christ is the reason we’re different.

Way? Which Way?

May favorite verse about following Jesus is John 14: 5, when Jesus is telling His disciples that He is leaving to go to His Father’s house:

“You know the way to the place where I am going,” He assures them.

“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’”

Isn’t that an astute question? And it comes from the man we unfortunately label as “Doubting Thomas.”

Jesus answers with a verse beloved by His followers, and hated by many who aren’t:

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

This verse isn’t a weapon, a nail to hammer into people’s hands — it’s a promise:

No, you don’t know where you’re going. But He does. Follow Him, and you’ll get there.

Thank You

Thank you for reading Commonsense Christianity. Christianity is different, you know. Not because it’s harsh and judgmental and mean spirited and proud, but because it is a message of love, acceptance, understanding, compassion, and mercy.

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