Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

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,

and

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?”

Sigh.

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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Why You (Probably) Shouldn’t Pray for a Sign

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Does the sunlight breaking through the clouds mean anything? How about the shape of the clouds? Once we start looking for signs, we see them everywhere. Peace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Signs and wonders: they fascinate us. We marvel at the crossing of the Red Sea, Jesus’ feeding of 5,000 and 4,000, even Gideon with his soggy sheep fleece.

One part of us asks, “Is this really true?” while another part says, “Do this for me, God! Do this for me!”

And within contemporary Christian culture, we are often encouraged to “ask for a sign,” because, we are assured, Gideon did this (multiple times), and God honored his request. He can do no less for us, we’re told, and indeed, if we have enough faith, we force His hand.

Good or Bad, We’re Not Gideon

But we’re not Gideon, my friends, (Judges 6-8) and God isn’t asking us to wipe out an overwhelming Midianite enemy by shouting, blowing on trumpets, and breaking jars. If the story of Gideon tells us anything, it’s that God gets the credit for winning our battles. Gideon’s story isn’t one extolling a man’s faith, but rather his reluctance, and God’s gracious understanding of that fear.

After Jesus fed the 5,000 with extremely limited resources, He was approached by the Pharisees, who tested Him (this is a telling phrase) by asking for a sign from heaven. He replied by sighing,

“Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.” (Mark 8: 12)

“But the Pharisees were bad,” it’s tempting to reply. “And I’m good.”

I’ll send you to Luke 18: 10 for that one, but right now, let’s keep reading in Mark 8, verses 14-21, when Jesus cautions His disciples to “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”

It Doesn’t Have to Do with Bread

Clueless, like us, that they are, the disciples were convinced that somehow, Jesus was talking about bread, which they they presently lacked. But immediately before this passage is the encounter with the Pharisees, asking for a sign. If the Pharisees hadn’t been there for the whole bread event, they had to have at least heard of it. And apparently it wasn’t enough.

Perhaps the Israelites jumped from rock to rock, and the Egyptians were more clumsy. Convergence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at ICanvasART.

Consider this: perhaps an aspect of the yeast of the Pharisees is this insistence upon a sign. And the problem with asking for signs is that they are never enough.

It doesn’t matter what we ask for: if we get it, the first thing we do is figure out why it happened, and settle upon a natural explanation. Once we get that, we say,

“But that’s not really a sign, Lord. Give me a real one!”

Don’t believe me? Mention the Red Sea to the average skeptic (and this includes many Christians), and he’ll say, “Oh, there was a wind, and it blew the water back,” or, “The water was only 2 feet deep,” which makes you wonder how the Egyptians drowned in it.

There Have Been Signs Already

“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead,” Abraham, in Jesus’s parable, tells the rich man in hell who pleads that someone go warn his still living brothers. (Luke 16: 31)

Signs are never enough.

The desire for signs also distracts us from the real thing — Jesus, and our faith in Him. When we insist upon a sign as evidence that Jesus has heard, and will do something, about our prayer, His goodness, and His compassion, and His love are dependent upon whether or not He sends the sign. If He doesn’t, then we doubt Him, not the wisdom, or lack of thereof, of our prayer. We are more interested in what Jesus can do for us, then we are in Jesus ourselves:

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus tells a group who sought Him out after He fed the 5,000, “you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.” (John 6: 26) These people didn’t even want a sign; they just wanted more food.

How about THIS Verse?

A popular verse, when it comes to justify asking for a sign, is Isaiah 7: 10, in which the Lord tells Judah’s King Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

Ahaz’ response is interesting: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

While we frequently express our doubt in God’s goodness by demanding a sign, Ahaz was reluctant — 1) because he didn’t want to put God to the test but additionally 2) because he still doubted God, even when encouraged to trust Him. It’s a thought.

If you, like Ahaz, are strongly encouraged to ask for a sign, then follow God’s leading — but make sure it’s God’s leading. You’ll be less likely to be fooled by the voices in your head, or Satan’s whispering over your shoulder, if you find, and read, the many promises God has given us in His word that He hears our prayers  (Psalm 34: 15,  2 Chronicles 7: 14); He will never abandon us (Deuteronomy 31: 8); and He knows our needs (Matthew 6: 8, Luke 11: 13).

Trust God, not wonders. Seek Jesus, not miracles. Ask for wisdom, not signs. Then, when the wonders and the miracles and the signs occur, you will be able to discern which are from God, and which are not.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I have spent many fruitless hours praying, looking for, and expecting a sign, when Jesus just wanted me to look for Him instead.

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5 Blessings You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Enjoy

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Sunshine is so much a part of our everyday existence that we easily take it for granted. Can you imagine life without the sun? Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Years ago, I spoke with a new mom about being lonely, and mentioned that I had experienced my share of that painful condition.

“Oh, I’m not LONELY!” she shot back, as if we were discussing leprosy or something.

You get the same reaction when you admit, “I would love to have a little more money, just to make things easier, you know.”

“Oh, I never pray for MONEY!” insecure Christians counter in alarm.

We All Worry about Money

Oh, come on, people — of course you pray for money. If it weren’t such a pressing need in our lives Jesus wouldn’t have told us not to worry about what we eat, drink, or wear (all of which require money) in Matthew 6: 31.

That being said, many of us have more than we think we do, especially in wealthier countries. And while it’s tempting to pray for enough money that we never have to worry about paying for anything again, we forget that we have access to some very precious treasures that cost little, or nothing. It’s worth recognizing their existence and being grateful:

It’s up There Every Single Day

1) The sun. Yes, I spelled that right — that great big golden orb lights up the day for everyone, and no matter how greedy some people get, they can’t restrict sunlight from the rest of us and keep it all to themselves:

“(God) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5: 45.

The sun’s received a bad rap these last few years, and many people stay out of it or slather on a chemical concoction before darting from their home to their car. But the next time you’re outside, close your eyes, feel the warmth on your face, and be glad for something so big that we all can share it. Too many of the good gifts God intended for His creation to enjoy are grabbed and hoarded by a few.

Meant to Give Us Pleasure

2) Food. This is one of those good gifts that are grabbed and hoarded by a few — if not the food itself, then the means to purchase enough to feed oneself and one’s family, and thereby live a dignified existence.

If you have enough food that you eat multiple times a day and are satisfied, then be very, very grateful. In many families, it is tradition to “say grace” before a meal, but this can quickly become a meaningless rote. The next time, and every time, you eat, truly mean the words you express, and pray for those who don’t have enough. Then take the next step, and ask God what you can do to help someone who isn’t getting enough to eat.

We can’t know all 7 billion of us, but we all have special relationships with special people. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

God intended food to be a regular blessing for all of us, and His consistent promise to the Israelites was that He would ” . . . bring them up out of (Egypt) into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  (Exodus 3: 8)

Our People

3) Family and friends. The word “dysfunctional” is bandied about so generously these days that we forget that family is a good thing: our tribe, unique to each one of us, is there to love, support and care for for its members:

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever,” 1 Timothy 5: 8 tells us. Each one of us has individuals within our lives that we act with on a special basis: we are a father, a mother, daughter, son, niece, grandson, cousin, friend.

One of the worst things about being obscenely rich, famous, and influential is the uncertainty of really knowing who truly loves you, just because you’re you, and who acts like they love you because you’re fabulously rich, famous, and influential.

Rest

4) A good night’s sleep. People in chronic pain or poor health, or those under severe anxiety, know the gift that sleep can bring:

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety,” Psalm 4: 8 says.  When I pray for people, one of the first, and most frequent, items on the list is a good night’s sleep. If you got one last night, take a moment, close your eyes, and thank God.

One God, Available to All

5) Access to God. All of us can cry to God and be assured that we are heard:

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me,” Psalm 50: 15 promises. Psalm 34: 6 is a variation comforting to those of us not in the 1 percent:

“This poor man called, and the Lord heard him.”

Because God made everything and owns it all, He is not impressed by power, name, academic degrees, awards, money, appearances, or the number of people on your social media sites: “God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2: 11)

Let’s say your prayers were answered, and 10 million dollars, tax-free, dropped into your bank account. Which of the five preceding items would you be willing to give up to get it?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I got a phenomenal night’s sleep a few days ago. I love my noisy, quirky, chaotic family; ate muffins for breakfast; and swung in the hammock this weekend, the sun warming my skin.

But most precious of all is that God is in my life: He loves quirky, chaotic me enough to stretch and pull and hold and love me moment by moment.

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