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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Whenever I tell an appalling church story, I am sure to be scolded.

“Not all churches are like this!” is the general response. “You shouldn’t be so harsh on churches because people need them.”

Purple Iris inspirational original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at light in the box and framed canvas art.

Hurting human beings are fragile, and it is the prayer of all who love Christ that we not rip other’s blossoms off. Purple Iris, original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Light in the Box.

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(No, actually, they don’t: people need God, and He is not confined to buildings.)

So, before I continue this story, I’ll add the caveat:

Not all churches, or the people within them, are like the one I will shortly be describing. But some are — and this story is for those who have been damaged by them. If your church is not like this, thank God — and do your part to make sure that it doesn’t become this way.

The Appalling Story

Now, to the story:

A woman was having family problems. It doesn’t matter what they are: what matters is that she was in emotional pain, under constant anxiety, and aching with a hurt that just wouldn’t go away.

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Though it is many years since she has been in church — because her experiences there, long ago, were never fulfilling or meaningful — she wants God, and the most logical place to find Him, she reasons, is church.

So one Sunday, she assembles the children and shows up at service. Not being well versed or trained in church etiquette, the family doesn’t look, or act like, church people. But they are seated, given a bulletin, and the song service starts.

And then the woman commits the unpardonable sin: she allows her toddler, a child who loves to dance, to do so in the aisles of the sanctuary. After all, it’s hard for a 2-year-old to sit still, and this child dances to music at home.

Home is not church, however (fortunately), and one church member, offended at this breach of church etiquette, marches the child over to the woman and scolds, admonishing the woman — a visitor looking for love, apparently, in the wrong place — about her lack of parenting skills.

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The ending is predictable, and it goes without saying that the woman did not stay for the sermon. And she sure didn’t find God where she was looking for Him.

God Is Not Confined to Church Buildings

This story has two purposes:

One: for the people who associate God with religion in any form: He’s not there. But the good news is, you don’t have to leave your home to come near to God — because where it matters for Him to be, right next to you, He already is.

Come near to Him by crying out to Him with your pain, and He will show Himself to you, in the oddest, most unexpected ways.

We Focus on the Wrong Things

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Two: for those of us who fall into the trap of being overly-concerned about church etiquette, and dressing and acting a certain way in “God’s house”:

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Matthew 9:13)

If we want people who don’t know God to find Him, then we’ll have to deal with inappropriate church behavior, not the least of which is looking at the externals of a person, and being more concerned about that than what lies inside.

While this particular incident is so outlandish it belies believing, thankfully, most church people can say, “Our church wouldn’t do this!” (Quite unfortunately, however, because these incidents do happen in their various forms, all of us calling ourselves Christians have to live with the impression that this is what Christianity is: harsh, unfeeling, regulated, concerned with rules, and judgmental.)

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But the incidents don’t have to be this outlandish to hurt: when we maintain a healthy distance between ourselves and that person who talks too loudly; or give a stern look to the teen with the short, short skirt; or comment, sotto voce, to our neighbor, “They live a rough life, bless their hearts,” we are in danger of driving away the very people who need Christ most: other human beings.

We Can’t Do This on Our Own

It’s not easy being a Christian, and loving others the way Christ does, but thank God, He doesn’t expect us to do it without Him. While it is true that some people will actively and aggressively reject God because their hearts are hard and their desires for money and fame and power are so overpowering that these elements rule their very existence, there are far too many others who are angry and hurt because they looked for that love, and where they thought they could find it, they were repulsed.

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So that verse at the top? “Come near to God and he will come near to you,” — it’s for us, my brothers and sisters, to daily walk with our Father and ask Him to show, and teach us, His love, so that we can pour it onto others.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

 

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Where Does All the Tithe Money Go?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 4:32)

If you attend conventional church for any time at all, you will be unable to escape the annual, or semi-annual, sermon upon tithing, which encourages — admonishes, actually — members to bring their resources “before the Lord” on a regular basis. (Weekly, ten percent of the gross wages — sounds like taxes, doesn’t it?)

Child of Eden inspirational original oil painting of little girl in garden with green hat and radishes by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Amazon.com, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art.

Do all the children in the congregation of the church we attend have enough to eat? If not, that’s not a government problem, it’s a church issue, because we are called to take care of our own. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvas.

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One verse you won’t see in these tithing sermons is the one above, in which the believers of the early church took seriously Jesus’s command to love one’s neighbor as oneself, and to make sure that, when one’s neighbor was going without, those that weren’t took care of him:

“There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.” (4:34-35)

In all the years we sat in church, passing the plate, or basket, or velvet bag around during “offering” time, never was it emphasized that this money was designated for the poor, hurting, or needy in the congregation, because, quite frankly, it wasn’t.

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Although there was a token nod given to a “benevolent fund,” (which needed to be specified in the check memo line to get the funds there; otherwise they went into the “general fund”) most of the money went for salaries, utilities, “ministries,” and “materials.”

“There were no needy persons among them” is a phrase that cannot honestly be used within most conventional church congregations, and yet, if we truly shared what we had, with the idea of distributing it to the poor and needy, as opposed to running a building and a business (mega churches come especially to mind), would we be sending people away — after Sunday morning service — to deal with their aching teeth that they are unable to fix, the 35-year-old car that needs four new tires, and the rent money that isn’t complete because a member of the family pretty much drank up last week’s paycheck?

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“These people should learn to live more wisely and budget the resources that they have, better than they are doing.”

Bingo. That’s exactly what the leadership of churches — these people — should do. Yes, the laborer is worthy of his hire, and a pastor who spends his week studying in true humility so that he can teach and serve, with that same humility, does deserve a modest, and reasonable wage (is that what mega-church pastors get?). But after that, when it all goes into a building, and into infrastructure, and into programs and materials and products to the point that there is nothing left for hurting, needy people, we’re looking at a bureaucracy, not Christ’s church. The wise men of God who have set themselves up as leaders in the congregation are called to emulate the attitude of the leaders in Acts who, when presented with the precious monetary gifts set at their feet, did not devote that money to Sunday School materials.

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Believers, it is not our duty to support a building, an establishment, and a neighborhood church first, and then, with whatever we have left over, to give to our neighbor — via a mega-ministry that is nothing more than another business itself.

Our command is to love our neighbor, first — none of us claiming that any of our possessions are our own, but sharing what we have. If the church leadership is not designed to, or does not have the intention of, emulating the apostles’ attitude about money and resources, then it is up to us, as individual Christians, to ensure that our brother and sister is cared for, and without need.

That’s where the tithe money is supposed to go.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

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Walking in the Dark

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Recently, a friend sent me this Bible verse from Isaiah 50:10:

“Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant?

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”

Moonlit Night on the Coppei inspirational original oil painting by Steve Henderson

It’s hard enough to walk when things are shadowy; it’s impossible to do so, without God, when things are completely dark. Moonlit Night on the Coppei, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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Initially, this verse was most perplexing to me because, despite God’s consistently shaking me awake over the last nine years, and teaching me to listen to His voice and not man’s, I tend to fall back on default to conventional, guided, pulpit-provided thought, and said to myself:

“But I know Jesus, and He is the light! So I should never be walking in darkness!”

That sounds like a sermon, doesn’t it, sprinkled with appropriate verses to hammer in the point:

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life,” (John 8:12)

the customarily dreary point of these sermons being that we’re not good enough, we don’t have enough faith, and by golly, we’d better change all that if we want God to accept and love us.

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Sometimes, We Walk in the Dark

But reality is, even though we have made a choice to follow God; learn about Him through prayer, reading Scripture, and observing the world around us; and seek fellowship and time with His son, Jesus, we frequently operate in a state of not knowing what will happen next.

Let me amend that: we ALWAYS operate in a state of not knowing what will happen next, because only God knows, and holds, the future.

Daydreaming inspirational original oil painting of woman walking on ocean beach by Steve Henderson

Life involves a daily walk on the path set before us; sometimes we can see it, and sometimes we can’t. Daydreaming, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear,” Jesus taught in Matthew 6:25-34.

“For the pagans run after all these things, and our heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

He is not scolding, as He so often seems to be from the pulpit, but teaching, guiding, encouraging — understanding that we, who live in fleshly bodies with very real concerns about mortgage payments, root canals or impacted wisdom teeth, rising food costs, and an extensive list of school supplies for our first grader prepared by a 22-year-old teacher who has no children of her own, worry about these things, because they slap us in the face every moment of our lives.

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Unfulfilled Dreams

Often, in the midst of our day to day obligations and perplexities, we have dreams and desires for something better, something deeper, that we fight because — though we try and we try and we try to bring these dreams to some sort of fruition — nothing happens, and we question whether these dreams are from God, or just some silly fantasy within our own brains.

After all, we reason, if the dreams were from God, wouldn’t they come true, or at least look as if they had the intention of doing so?

At this point, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we are walking in the dark, because we don’t know what’s going on. All we know is that we can’t give it up, whatever this dream or desire is, and though we have, to the best of our ability, handed it back to God and said, “Take this, if it’s the wrong thing, and lead me,” nothing is happening.

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Our eyes are open, but they see nothing, because the path ahead, and behind, and to the side of us, is dark.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord,” the Psalmist tells us in 27:14. In the verse before, he says,

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

“WHY?!”

No one makes a pronouncement like this when he is already seeing, and living, what he looks for and desires. These are the brave words of a person who has prayed, and prayed, and prayed for something that has not yet happened, and while the one part of him cries out in agony, “WHY!!!!!” the will of this psalmist asserts that God is good, all good, and He is worth trusting.

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So back to that verse in Isaiah 50:10 from my friend, and sister in Christ:

“Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”

Once we acknowledge that we are lost, in the dark, and unable to walk forward because we can’t see anything ahead of us, then our best, and only, choice is to trust in the goodness, compassion, and love (the name) of our Father, and rely upon Him, as our counselor, guide, and teacher, to walk us through this dark place.

And while this will not preclude our yelling out “WHY!? WHEN!? HOW MUCH LONGER!?” at the most disparate times (often just after we’ve been congratulating ourselves on how well our faith is progressing), our Lord and God and Father is not frightened of, or offended by, our questions. Indeed, they come as no surprise to Him; it is we ourselves who do not realize the shallowness of our faith, and our daily need to consciously place our hands in His.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.

Posts complementing this one are

Psychotic Cats and God’s Love

Are Your Dreams — and Your Life — in Perpetual Limbo?

When Our Dreams Never Come True

 

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Four Important Men You’ve Never Heard of

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Depending upon our interests, those of us who live in the world of mass media can rattle off names of note in the sports arena, TV land, cinematic Fantasia, network “news,” political affront, musical medley, or the religious circus, er, circuit.

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

No matter how long we live, or how important we think we are, we are ultimately like the flowers of the field — here today, and gone tomorrow. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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So well versed are we in this trivia that entire game shows are set up so that contestants can show off this “knowledge,” with the one who answers the most about the least of significance, taking home the prize.

But names and faces are funny things — they pretty much last a generation, unless they are mythologized and set into a high school history textbook — and the actors and actresses who caused our grandparents to swoon provoke a response in today’s generation that’s more along the lines of, “Who’s that? What weird hair.”

Such is fame — it’s fleeting, representing “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14)

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4 Unpronounceable Names

Take Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jethucal, and Pashhur, for example.

These men were powerful — so much so that the top politico of their nation, Zedekiah the king of Judah, was afraid of them, and they were able to set policy and bring about actions to their liking, without really worrying about Z’s opinion on the matter. It sounds a bit like many governments today, with the president or monarch or prime minister or whatever term is given to the top dog, working “in conjunction” with his political and corporate “advisers.”

Now Zedekiah was the last official king of Judah, in Israel, before the Babylonians swooped in and took over the land in 586 B.C., dismantling the government and sending the people into exile. He was regularly approached by Jeremiah, the prophet, and told what he must do:

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“Do not deceive yourselves, thinking, ‘The Babylonians will surely leave us,’  They will not!” Jeremiah told him not once, but multiple times. (Jeremiah 37:9).

“This is what the Lord God Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, your life will be spared and this city will not be burned down; you and your family will live.

“But if you will not surrender to the officers of the king of Babylon, this city will be handed over to the Babylonians and they will burn it down; you yourself will not escape from their hands.” (38:17-18)

Don’t Wanna to Hear This

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Like pretty much everything Jeremiah foretold, this was not an appreciated, or welcomed, message, and when Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur (are they starting to sound familiar yet?) saw that Jeremiah wasn’t going to shut up, and line up with the state-approved prophets who were foretelling peace, prosperity, and success, they went to the king, in all their administrative power and wisdom, and said,

Chimu inspirational original oil painting still life of peruvian pottery by Steve Henderson

These four pots have a longer shelf life, so to speak, then the four administrators with the unpronounceable, and highly forgettable, names. Chimu, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

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“This man should be put to death. He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them. This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.” (38:4)

It did not matter whether Jeremiah’s words were true — it mattered that his words made powerful people look bad, and caused the non-powerful people, the masses, to question the motives and driving factors of their leaders. The general result of this, in any nation ruled by men who profit by their positions of governance, is the suppression of truth.

Toss out the Truth

In Jeremiah’s case, it meant that he was tossed into an empty, mud-filled cistern, left to die except for the bravery of one man — Ebed-Melech (his is a name truly worth remembering) — who went to the vacillating king and spoke for Jeremiah:

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“My lord the king, these men have acted wickedly in all they have done to Jeremiah the prophet.” (38:8)

Why so they have, the king admitted, giving permission to Ebed-Melech to rescue Jeremiah. Quietly, of course, and keeping his name out of it. If history teaches us anything, it is that men will act like men — cowardly or valiantly — in all cultures, and throughout all time.

How does this all end? For those who believe Jeremiah’s words — not Zedekiah, not his officials — the end shouldn’t be a surprise, since it is exactly what Jeremiah foretold, several times. Rather than die peacefully, which was the promise if he submitted to the king of Babylon (34:4), Zedekiah was captured as he fled the city, and watched as his sons were slaughtered in front of him. His eyes were gouged out, and he was bound in bronze shackles and taken to Babylon, where he was put in prison until the day of his death. (52:10-11)

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So much for dying peacefully.

Ebed-Melech — Worth Remembering

And Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur? Their names go missing, although 2 Kings 25:19 mentions five royal advisers who were executed. Clever as the four men were, and self-seeking, perhaps they managed to merge with the exiles led to Babylon, but while they may have escaped the notice of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, it’s a sure bet that God didn’t forget their deeds.

Neither did he forget the kindness of Ebed-Melech, the only one honorable enough, and brave enough, to speak up for Jeremiah, and against the actions of four powerful men, whose names are difficult to remember even after repeating them multiple times. God promised Ebed-Melech that he would escape with his life, “because you trust in me, declares the Lord.” (39:18)

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Money. Power. Fame, and Name. These are four earthly treasures that people, throughout history, seek, and while they may grasp it for awhile, we all die, our earthly remnants rotting into the ground. For  Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur, all that really remains are their names in a book that millions of people read, but despite this fame, the only ones who know those names are the people who win trivia contests on game shows.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write for the ordinary person, the one whose name matters very much to God.

Posts complementing this one are

Money, Power, Fame, and Name

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When Powerful People Repent — Is It Real?

Mass Manipulation by the Mass Media

 

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