Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Frightened, Freaked Out Christians

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Like various government, corporate, and financial agencies, I scroll through Facebook to get an idea of how the populace is thinking, and the other day someone posted a video clip of Retired Air Force Lt. General McInerney — somber, serious, and very authoritative looking — warning Fox News acolytes, er, viewers about the imminent Isis threat to the (non-existent) U.S. borders.

chicken little cartoon by Steve Henderson

What are we running from? And who is chasing us? Chicken Little cartoon by Steve Henderson.

Reminiscent of Mel Gibson’s Hollywood line in the movie Signs (“It’s happening . . . “), McInerney read from his teleprompter, “Beware America: They are coming for us.” It’s difficult to tell which of the two — Gibson or McInerney — managed the better monotone.

The response, to the sleeping Christian community on Facebook, was predictable:

“Blessed Savior,” one woman wrote. “Come for us!”

“I’m so afraid!” another posted. “Sweet Jesus, save us now!”

And while Jesus is on His way, whatever the government forces are wanting to do, do it, now, please, with Jesus’ blessing.

A Media Monopoly

As a person who eschews corporate television news — CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, or Fox (it can’t bear too much repeating that six corporations own 90 percent of the media in the United States), I tend to think that people are more awake than they are, and the other day, asked the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson — “What percentage of the populace continues to accept, blindly, everything they are told on the evening news?”

Ocean Breeze inspirational oil painting of woman onocean beach at sunset with dress and fabric by Steve Henderson

Whatever is true, right, honorable, beautiful — think of these things and escape the trap of fear. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Naively, because I read a lot of alternative news and encounter other versions than the officially sanctioned ones, I had thought that more people were waking up, but following this particular Facebook thread I realized that, among a certain segment of Christians (please God, let it not be too large) artless credulity reigns rampant.

They believe everything they are told by sources they unquestioningly trust. And the result of that belief is not empowerment, but fear, something that an actual source of truth — the Bible — says we are not to allow to rule our lives:

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1: 7)

Armed with Confidence

Commonsense dictates that, when any people, household, group, or nation is facing a serious threat, the last thing you want is for the populace to be paralyzed with fear. If you want to win the fight, you arm the populace — with knowledge, insight, and actual weaponry — because people will fight for what is dear to them. That’s what we were taught about the founding of the U.S. — that a militia of ordinary citizens fought and won the war — but for some reason, the solution today is to disarm, and dishearten, us.

The result is a hapless, helpless populace (with far too many Christians reposting press releases), that wrings its hands and says,

“Oh dear, what can we do?”

Here are four things we can do:

Stay Distant

1) Stop falling in love with people in uniform. Or anyone who speaks authoritatively and with confidence. Not so long ago, a commander in chief looked the American public in the eye (on TV) and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman!”

Lest you think that lying is limited to one political party, another commander in chief told us, “Read my lips: no new taxes!”

“Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.” (Isaiah 8: 12)

Midday Tea inspirational oil painting of young woman in dining room of Victorian home by Steve Henderson

The people we invite into our home — whether via TV or our kitchen door — are ones we trust and are happy to see. Midday Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Do not assume that “these people” are Christians — and thereby speak in God’s name — simply because they say they are, they go to church, or they’re Republican/conservative.

Be Skeptical

2) Quit believing everything you’re told. On the news, in the classroom, from the pulpit, by the mayor.

The gospel author Luke encourages all Christians to be Bereans, a skeptical people of “noble character” who

“Received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17: 11)

If they acted this way with the apostle Paul — whose ethics and character were of a higher sort than most — then what should our attitude be toward politicians, businessmen, financiers, and media moguls whose central purpose in life is to turn a profit?

Avoid Hypnosis

3) Turn off the TV. It’s hypnotic, literally, and the time you spend staring, with glazed eyes, absorbing a well-written script could be more usefully invested in a brisk walk, an afternoon in the garden, a game of cards with your family, a serious session of knitting, reading a book — or checking out alternative news sites. There are more and more of them, and although there is no major Christian option, Fox News isn’t Christian either.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world, rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2: 8)

This doesn’t just refer to Biblical and church issues, but is a phenomenal description of today’s media-saturated cultural message.

Seek God

4) Pray. That’s our most powerful option as Christians.

Rather than throw in the towel, saying, “The world is going to end anyway so there’s nothing we can do — Sweet Jesus! We NEED you!” talk to the Guy.

Ask the One who has been given every power and authority (Matthew 28: 18-20), and in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1: 15-17) to open the eyes of the blind (including Christians), frustrate the plans of the wicked, and put people in places of purpose who are honest, God-fearing, and seekers of truth.

Revelation 3: 7 tells us that “What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” Pray that He shuts the door on evil men and evil deeds, so that good men can walk in the light for a bit longer, and bring more people onto the narrow path.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage Christians, especially, to look for just that — commonsense.

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Three Things Christians Don’t Say Enough

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Words are powerful, but not in the way prosperity preachers or New Age advocates claim. While words themselves do not convey any ability to create reality, simply because we utter them (e.g., “I CLAIM this blessing!”), they affect those around us because they soothe and heal, or they hurt and damage.

Phonograph Days inspirational oil painting of woman with hat and dress in piano room listening to old fashioned nostalgia phonograph by Steve Henderson

Words can be sweet music to our ears, bringing a smile to our hearts. Let’s make them that way. Phonograph Days, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Every day, regardless of what our job is, and whether or not we are involved in an official “ministry,” Christians have an opportunity to touch people’s souls by, literally and figuratively, speaking for Jesus.

In addition to the standard “Please,” “Thank You,” and “I was wrong and I apologize,” there are three powerful sentences that Christians can use to bless the ears, and lives, of those around them:

We’re Not Omniscient

1) “I don’t know.” We’re really afraid of these three words, because in the back of our minds is the exhortation of 1 Peter 3: 15:

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”

Deep down, because most of us know that we don’t have all the answers to all the arguments that people can throw at us, we avoid confrontation, or even conversation, with non-believers — who include everyone from questioning seekers to belligerent oppositional forces. It’s far easier to invite people to church (where our poor pastor can take care of things) as opposed to relaxedly interacting with them.

Response, Not Solution

It’s important to distinguish, however, between a “response” and a “solution,” and Peter is encouraging us to have a deep enough relationship with Christ to be able to explain, at least nominally, why we follow Him. He’s not insisting that we get into formal debates concerning creation versus evolution, or spirituality versus atheism — some people may do so, and do so well because they have studied these issues and can speak competently on them, but for the most part, it’s wise to,

“Avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.” (Titus 3: 9)

You don’t have to answer every hostile question thrown at you — frequently the questioner isn’t interested in the answers anyway. Disengage yourself from fruitless encounters.

When you are dealing with a true truth seeker, however, answer as best you can, and be honest enough with yourself, and them, to say, “I don’t know,” to something that’s beyond you. You’re not the only one without a satisfying answer for, “If God is so loving, why does He send people to hell?” or, “What about people who have absolutely no way of hearing about Jesus?”

“Me, Too!”

2) “I struggle with that, too.” Considering that we are children of a Father full of grace, mercy, love, and compassion, we sure beat ourselves down a lot, and many Christians have difficulty admitting that they are anxious, fearful, envious, bitter, insecure, spiteful, and unable to trust in the goodness of God.

Mesa Walk inspirational oil painting of Indian woman dancing on Arizona plains near Grand Canyon by Steve Henderson

We can literally dance with joy in our weakness, because it means that we don’t have to be perfect, just wrap ourselves in the mercy and grace of God. Mesa Walk, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

“That’s a sin,” we’re told. My favorite “that’s a sin” phrase relates to Philippians 4: 6, in which we are encouraged to “not be anxious about anything but . . . present our requests to God.” It doesn’t do a whole lotta good to tell a person sick with worry over the loss of their job and income that they’re sinning by worrying, and God is displeased with them.

Oh, great — another thing to worry about.

We are weak, my friends, and our Christian testimony is stronger for our admitting this — not only to the people around us who really, truly are not comforted by our having it so all together, to the point that our house is NEVER messy, but to God — who can’t deal with the problems in our lives if we refuse to admit they exist in the first place.

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12: 9, 10. “. . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Silence Is Golden

3) Nothing. Sometimes, the best thing to say is nothing at all, especially when the person pouring out their heart, hurt, confusion, despair, and fear to us is going through something we haven’t gone through, and can’t quite understand.

“Your loved one is with Jesus, that is, um . . . she did know Jesus, didn’t she?”

Brutal.

“God’s trying to get your attention with your cancer diagnosis. I suggest you get close to Him.”

Hmmm.

“A job loss isn’t the end of the world. Just trust in Jesus and He will provide.”

Brother, can you spare a dime?

“I’ll pray for you.”

If you mean it, and will make a commitment to do it, and keep doing it, this is sterling. But if it’s just four words said to get you out of an uncomfortable situation, swallow them.

If you are fortunate enough to understand, pretty much exactly, what a person is going through because you’ve been through it yourself, your words will salve, because they stem from your own humility, dearly bought.

But for the most part, listening to another person — truly listening — is the best way of saying something to them.

Three phrases, one of which isn’t a phrase: like all aspects of following Christ, it’s remarkably easy, and outstandingly difficult, but it starts, as every day does, with the statement,

“God, nothing is impossible for you. Walk with me.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am so happy happy happy that I don’t have to be an amazing person with everything all together. I rest in God’s arms (when I’m not trying to wriggle out), and I encourage you to rest there, too.

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Why Doesn’t God DO Something?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

On one of the Christian Google-Plus communities I follow, a perfidious little troll regularly posts photos of starving children, highlighting his point with accompanying commentary like, “Where is the good and gracious God?”

Actually, he’s more verbally adroit than that — quite clever, actually — and to avoid confrontation or actual dialogue he sets up the post so that people cannot respond. They can only look at the pictures, ache for the child, and say, “Yeah, where IS God? Why does He let all this suffering abound?”

Lilac Festival inspirational oil painting of toddler girl next to flower bush in garden by Steve Henderson

Around the world, children should be fed, safe, and secure, and if we ask God, He will show each one of us how we can use the resources we have to give, and give wisely. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

In other words, why doesn’t God DO something?

It’s a reasonable question, one that has baffled us through the ages, but before we get too caught up in it, we might also ask,

“Well, why don’t we?”

Cutting off the Crusts

People starve in this world not necessarily because we don’t produce enough food — check out restaurant, school, government, and individual garbage bins in the country in which I live, for example. At the sub shop where I occasionally treat myself to a sandwich, I’m always fascinated that three inches of each end are sawn off and thrown into the trash.

“Can’t you send some of that to a shelter that feeds people?” I ask.

“Unfortunately, no. Government regulations forbid it for sanitation reasons.”

Well, there’s something we could do. We could find out who passes these laws and see if we could get them overturned. Bureaucracy being what it is, however, I’m not any more hopeful about that option than you are.

Bureaucracy

Speaking of bureaucracy, consider all the money that people send to relief organizations — to purchase food and clean water for those who don’t have it —  and think about how many times we hear that a shipment is “held up” (and thereby rots or is destroyed before it gets to the people needing it) by a government agency or red herring hostile force within the country. Logically, the best thing God could “Do” in this situation is get rid of the impeding bureaucratic agency, but once He started, there would be very little left standing, worldwide, by 4:30 p.m. closing time at end of the day.

A friend of mine in a poor, struggling country — the kind that is filled with a plethora of relief agencies, both religious and secular — mentioned how a fellow United Statesian had been sent to work at a large, mega-Christian charity in a big city nearby. When she tried to contact the new employee to see if the agency could link hands with her small, individual efforts to help people, the woman told her,

Field of Dreams inspirational oil painting of meadow hills and trees in rural country setting by Steve Henderson

It’s so easy to overlook the local landscape, and its people, when bureaucracy reigns supreme. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“Oh, I have a desk job. I basically just shuffle papers around.”

Is there any reason why the mega-ministry couldn’t have hired a person from the agency-invaded country to “just shuffle papers around” as opposed to importing an entry level worker from 8,000 miles away? That’s something that humans, and not God, could do toward solving the country’s problem of unemployment. The amount invested in each imported entry level worker could raise an entire local family, one with no hope, to a level of dignity and security.

The Elite

At base, our world suffers because a small number of people at the top — well hidden but with their hands in the financial affairs of men — simply cannot get enough money, enough power, enough land, enough flesh from other human beings. They run banks, government agencies, educational establishments, medicine, pharmaceuticals, agri-business, media, and religious organizations — their surfeit is our lack, but one reason they make so much is that we continue to give it to them.

While there’s little we can do, short-term, about taxes, fees, and mandatory insurance payments, when we fund large corporations by buying, and buying, and buying things we don’t necessarily need but want, or when we purchase on credit and make interest payments — where do you think all that money goes? It goes to banks, and to corporations so large that they own more real estate and resources than actual nations.

In our purchases, we can make three little decisions that, individually, don’t seem like much, but collectively, can help starve this beast:

1) Don’t buy on credit

2) Don’t buy buy buy

3) When we do buy, seek out true small businesses — Mom and Pop’s farmer’s market stand, an artist’s fine art paintings, an eclectic toy shop that isn’t part of a chain — and support individuals, not oligarchies. On that same note, we might check out smaller charities, run by human beings not boards, and consider sending our money there. It may actually get to the people we’re trying to help.

“Yeah, I don’t need a larger screen TV, but I want it — so leave me alone!”

One at a Time, We Make a Difference

But if we can’t do this little thing — say “no” to a stream of nonessential purchases and keep that dollar or two or twenty or fifty off the books of big, big business, then why do we get so mad at God, accusing Him of doing nothing?

Imagine what would happen if every person who has ever asked, “Why doesn’t God DO something,” made just one decision today to not fund the fiscal consortium — didn’t use a credit card, or didn’t incur an ATM transaction fee, or didn’t buy a movie ticket, or didn’t take out a loan. Individually, the impact would be small, but collectively, the global corporate oligopoly feeds off of our nickels and dimes and pennies — because that’s what we are to them — not individual human beings, but monetary units.

The global oligarchy — our New World Order —  needs a lot of small, consistent, regular contributions from these monetary units (that’s you and me) to stay strong, powerful, and well fed — this last aspect being what too many individual people in this world, are not.

Buy wisely. Buy well. Buy locally or from true small businesses. And give to places that don’t hire entry level workers from 8,000 miles away. Maybe these are options God wants us to look into.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where, as an ordinary person, I do not have millions of dollars to pour into programs that purport to help, but tend to just feed the programs. But I can make a decision with each hard earned dollar I spend or give, and I do my best to do so.

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“Jesus Loves You!” — Enough, Already

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being told, at every store I enter or order from online, that I am receiving the lowest prices — ever!

The statement is made so much and so sweepingly, that I don’t remotely believe it, and when at Store B — with the lowest prices in town — I found three items that were priced higher than Store A — also with the lowest prices in town, I was hardly surprised. But that’s okay, because three of Store A’s lowest prices in town were higher than Store B’s.

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of woman and child on beach reading book by Steve Henderson

In conveying to people the concept of Christ’s love, we’ll have to use more than a three-word sentence. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and Light in the Box.

It all averages out somehow, and this apparently is the loophole. Everyone is telling the truth, sort of, just not the specific truth that their words give the impression of saying.

“That’s just life, Naive Girl.”

Disinformation

Yes, it is. Life in the world of men consists of partial statements, misinformation, disinformation, and 95 percent of the truth mixed in with 5 percent of the lie, and the winner of the game is the one who recognizes this and doesn’t get caught.

Unfortunately, many of the same techniques are used within the spiritual realm — knowingly and unknowingly — and among Christians, the equivalent statement to “We have the lowest prices in town!” is

“Jesus loves you!”

A friend who works at a grocery store, and who has experienced enough church life to swear her off of God forever, commented about a recent customer who barely answered her greeting and woodenly replied to her chipper comments (in case you’ve never worked in retail, clerks are instructed to sound happy and perky no matter how rude we are in return). At the end of the transaction, when my friend handed over the groceries, the customer beamed at her and said,

“Jesus looooooooves you! He died for you and will save you from your sin!”

Hammer It In, Hon

Well, as far as my friend goes, there’s another nail in God’s coffin.

You know, my friend is like a lot of people, seeking truth, longing for love, and wondering if this God they hear so much about is really the source of it. I was in that place 30-plus years ago, when as a cynical, jaded college student I opened myself enough, just barely, in vulnerability, to start asking others, who seemed to know, about God.

“Jesus loves you!” is the first thing I was told. “Come to church and you’ll see!”

That didn’t really answer what I was looking for: I wanted to know why life was so difficult. I wanted to know why others had meaningful relationships and I was alone. I ached because I frequently ate by myself in the college cafeteria and I lived with the constant feeling that I was a societal failure. And I really wanted to talk to someone safe, gentle, understanding, and accepting who could convince me that, at 19, I wasn’t a total flop.

“Jesus loves you!”

We Are His Ambassadors

He does, actually, and because we are His hands and feet, His body in this world, He has commissioned us with showing that love, which, frequently, we don’t know how to do other than invite a seeker to come to church.

Light in the Forest inspirational oil painting of two women with candles in woods by Steve Henderson

We are the light of the world. Even a small, flickering flame provides guidance in a dark, dark room. Light of the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

“It’s warm and friendly and welcoming there,” we tell ourselves, “and Pastor will teach them the truths that I don’t really know. I mean, I’m not a Bible study teacher or anything.”

It’s simpler than that, actually, and more difficult. In the case of my friend, who works long, disparate hours at a job where many customers — Christian and non-Christian — treat her as if she were a talking machine, it would take nothing more than making eye contact, smiling, and speaking with her as if she were a fellow, equal, human being. Some people do that — Christian and non-Christian.

How did Jesus show His love to people when He walked on earth?

He listened to them.

He accepted them.

He was gentle with the vulnerable, straightshooting with those who claimed to be wise or leaders.

He genuinely cared about them, and didn’t set up a relationship designed expressly to “bring them to God” (or into the church), and then drop them.

It’s Hard to Do Simple Things

I know, I know — we’re human and we’re not perfect and we’ll make mistakes and all that. But for all that we are concerned about our ministry opportunities — short term mission trips, teaching small groups, participating in visitation committees, printing the bulletin — we have far more valid, and important options just in the process of living our daily lives.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12: 31)

Non-condescendingly, humbly, and without thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to while we’re doing it.

Sometimes, the hardest things to do are the ones that sound the easiest.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I am grateful that, 30 years ago, my Norwegian Artist took time to get to know me, answer my questions, and just accept me as a human being. I threw a lot of questions and observations his way, but he never flinched, and when he didn’t know something, he said,

“That’s a good question. I’d have to admit that I really don’t know.”

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