Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

“God Helps Those Who Help Themselves.” Yuck.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Wouldn’t you like to feel a bit more like this in your Christian life — sassy, classy, confident that you can walk straight onto the beach because God is with you there? Oddly, the less you depend upon yourself, the more confident you can be. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

Okay, let’s find a Bible verse. Ready?

“God helps those who help themselves.”

I’ll give you a few minutes to look, but to save you time, you’ll find it in 2 Obligations 13: 36,  right before the “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” verse.

And if you’re looking for 2 Obligations, you won’t find that in the Bible anywhere, which means that you don’t have to incorporate it, or 1 Obligations, into your life. Neither of these statements, no matter how much they align with the way we believe in the U.S. culture into which I was born, is biblical or necessarily true.

But modern, materialist culture is firmly imbued with the idea that whatever success we achieve in life is due to our own efforts, and if we are not successful — i.e., wealthy — then it’s our fault because we’ve been lazy:

“Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10: 4)

Gosh, there must be a lot of lazy people in the world. And there sure are a lot rich people, who don’t look or act particularly kind, who must be Christians because they’re so successful.

Focus on the Whole, as Well as the Parts

When we read the Bible, it’s important to recognize that it’s a book, and the whole thing says something, not just individual verses that we cherry pick (or, in the case of our Obligations verses, invent out of nothing). And when you read the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, you encounter several themes, one of which is that God is in control — of everything — and that includes our lives. To achieve success — which in His terms doesn’t necessarily translate into money — we need to cede to Him that control.

Listen to what God says about us, and Him:

“I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” (Isaiah 48: 17) While you’re at it, start with Isaiah chapter 40, and read all the way to 50 and beyond. Much of what the prophet is discussing there has to do with events that will happen 100 years hence from his writing, and three basic themes emerge:

Three Things to Think about

1) God not only knows the future, he plans and directs it. (I know — that’s a rough one to wrap our minds around, but He’s in complete control, or He’s not, And if He’s not, then who else is sharing power with Him?)

We are His people, holy and dearly beloved. Child of Eden, original oil painting by Steve Henderson of Steve Henderson Fine Art.

2) Idols — whether they are made of wood, bronze, or paper with the saying “In God We Trust” blazoned across the back — are powerless, so calling on them for help defies reason.

3) God’s people – the children of Abraham, who are not limited to the Hebrews of the 7th century B.C. but include the Christians of today (1 Peter 2: 9-10) – are dearly loved. Isaiah 43: 4 tells us, “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.” I don’t know who the men in question are, but I do know that this sounds like a promise to ransom. You don’t put out resources for people who aren’t worth something to you.

Oh, That PLAN We Always Hear about

Many of us have heard the phrase, “God has a PLAN for your life,” (2 Obligations 16: 14), and while this in true — in the way that hard work is important — it misses the mark in the way all of Obligation’s verses do.

God has a plan, period. He Rules. He Rocks.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness. I bring prosperity and create disaster. I, the Lord, do all these things.” (Isaiah 45: 6-7)

And lest we think, “Well, Dang. He’s got a plan, I’m in it somehow, and I don’t have any say in the matter,” consider Isaiah 41: 13-14.

” . . . I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear, I will help you. Do not be afraid . . . for I myself will help you.”

Your Dreams Are No Secret to God

I know you’ve got things you want to do. So do I. And God knows this; indeed, He created us with certain skills, abilities, desires and dreams. Isn’t it good to know, though, that it isn’t all on your shoulders, that it isn’t all dependent upon your cleverness and intelligence and resources and connections?

Because I don’t know about you, but I’ve run up against a brick wall — or a Red Sea — enough times to know that I am very finite in all the major ways: intelligence, resourcefulness, power, wisdom and the very ability to draw my next breath, and it’s good to know that Someone who isn’t limited at all, is holding my hand.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about the challenges of actually living the words that we say we believe. Part of this challenge involves actually reading the words ourselves, and talking to God about them (prayer), as opposed to relying upon a weekly church service or books by Christian celebrities to learn about God.

If you go to church, that’s great — just don’t lapse into complacency that everything you’re told there is all that you need to know. God wants to talk to you directly, without any intermediaries.

Posts that complement this one are

Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books (Isaiah, which I mention in the article above, is a challenging book to get through, and if all you read in your off-time are “Christian” genre books which have the lamentable tendency to be written at a less than challenging reading level, you’ll avoid the Bible because it’s too difficult. But many an educated person in the past learned to read exclusively by reading the Bible, so there’s hope even for our generation.)

High Anxiety: Conquer Your Fear (Worry isn’t a sin so much as it is a bad lifestyle choice. Let’s get past it and grab onto this joy we keep hearing about: it involves trust and prayer.)

God, the Dentist (In the same way that even a great dentist can’t fill his own teeth, we really can’t live our lives without the guidance and wisdom of God.)

 

Is It Okay to Talk to the Grave of Your Loved One?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

When we’re hurting, we seek peace, and God is the God of peace and comfort. Peace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Those of you who have read me for awhile can probably guess the answer to any question I posit that begins with, “Is it okay to . . .?”

Yeah, the answer’s probably yes, unless the question is something like,

“Is it okay to walk up to a complete stranger and tell them that they look ugly in purple?” But then, I probably wouldn’t entitle a post like that, choosing instead, something like Nasty, Biting — Unintentional — Things We Say.

But all things considered, the answer is probably yes, as it is to today’s question, “Is it okay to talk to the grave of your loved one?”

Spaghetti Sauce

This question occurred to me as I was making spaghetti last night, which isn’t as random as it sounds, really, because my spaghetti sauce is loosely based upon a recipe of my father’s (Shockingly Simple Spaghetti Sauce); my father is in a better place right now; but I miss him, so when I’m in town where the cemetery is, I drop by and visit his grave.

Sometimes, I talk to him.

I tell him about the Norwegian Artist’s Santa paintings; Tired of Being Youngest’s forays into the culinary world; College Girl’s brave standing up in a group and facing down the bully who happened to be her boss.

Other times, we sit in companionable silence, in much the same way we did when he was alive. His grave overlooks a field of trees, a meadow of reflection on the life of a good man, and the legacy he left behind. Always, always, I end the visit with, “I love you, Dad.”

Sorcery versus Talking

I know he’s dead. I also know that God gives us pretty firm instructions to not to practice divination and sorcery (Leviticus 20: 26), and that it was a definite no-no for Saul to seek counsel with the spirit of Samuel in 1 Samuel 28.

Sometimes, talking to the ones we’ve lost is a form of contemplation; a conversation in our head that allows us to explore our feelings. Contemplation, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

There is a wall of some sort separating those of us on earth from those of us who have fallen asleep, and we are expressly told to not attempt to scale that wall. (Leviticus 19:31 – “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord Your God.”)

But the emotion of relationships does not abruptly end when another person’s breath does, and it can be part of the grieving process to talk to the person we can no longer sit in the same room with. At a time when we’re hurting, the last thing we need is someone telling us that we are evil because we look up heavenwards and say something like,

“You would have enjoyed this movie. It was a good one.”

So if you find yourself, like me, visiting a loved one’s grave and chatting, here are a few thoughts to ruminate on:

Quit Beating up on Yourself

1) Don’t flagellate yourself for talking to someone you love and miss. God’s there right beside you, and He hears what you’re saying and can pass on the message somehow.

2) While talking’s fine,  seeking wisdom from this person, or praying to them for answers, isn’t particularly wise. God tells us in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me,” meaning that He, and He alone, is the one we worship, seek guidance from, and pray to.

3) Time heals wounds, although scars generally remain. When grief is fresh, we are more likely to visit the grave site, if there is one, and talk to the departed. As time goes by, we need this less and less, and that’s not only okay, it’s preferable. It’s hard to keep up a conversation with someone who can’t converse back, and the only one from the spiritual world with whom we can do this, is God (see point 2).

Transition Back to the Land of the Living

4) Remember the living. We’ll never stop missing someone we loved very much, and it’s absurd for people to suggest that this is so. At the same time, there are others who knew this person as well — perhaps are hurting as much or more than we are over the loss — and sometimes we can find solace in one another.

5) When something no longer works, move on. I find myself talking less and less to my father, and more and more about him. While his physical presence is no longer here, his legacy — through his words, his actions, his stories, and his spaghetti sauce — lives on, and I honor his memory by incorporating these into my own life and passing them on.

Hebrews 12: 1 mentions our being surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” of people who no longer walk on the ground we do; Matthew 17: 3 reports Moses and Elijah, appearing on a mountain top, talking with Jesus — so when people die, they still exist, just in a different place. Much more than that, we really don’t know anything.

Death is a horrible thing, and it wrenches the lives of those left behind. If talking to the person lost helps, let it, and don’t add guilt to the burden of grief.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I post three times a week, and you can subscribe by clicking on the Subscribe button at the top right of the menu bar.

Posts loosely related to this one are

When You’re Not as Happy as You Wish You Were

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Christians: It’s Time to Read Grown-up Books

posted by Carolyn Henderson

If we know how to read, we have been given a precious gift that only gets better the more we use it. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

I read very few designated “Christian” books.

As a lover of thoughtful, well-written literature, I read for entertainment as well as for enlightenment, and find fiction to be a sublime means of conveying truth. It’s no accident that Jesus used stories to teach: good stories, told by a master, captivate the audience, and leave them much upon which to reflect.

This isn’t to say that well-written non-fiction (there’s that “well-written” term again) does not teach as well. But within both the Christian and non-Christian publishing camps, there’s a bit too much feel-good, self-help smarm, much of it with the author’s name far more prominent than the title.

Are There Only 50 Christian Authors?

The 31 years that I have been a Christian are long enough to notice changes, trends, and messages, and one thing I observe is that many of the authors who were writing books 31 years ago, are still writing them today.

Which is fine: when you have something to say, you keep saying it, in greater depth as wisdom is acquired. The problem is, many of these authors are saying the same things they said 10, 20, 31, years ago, and it’s not as if it were that splendidly profound the first time around.

By the time I eliminate the smarm (“You have POWER in His Name!” “Affirm the Promises with Authenticity!”) and the charm: (“Sweet, sweet Sister – Jesus sooooooo loves you”), there’s not much left that I can’t pick up myself from reading the Bible, meditating upon what it says, and communing with God in prayer. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need workbooks to teach.

A Story within a Story

The other day I picked up a little volume — by a man who’s been writing for 10, 20, 31–plus years — and gave him another try because 1) his Magnum Opus truly deserves the name and 2) the latest volume made promises about “critical thinking,” “analysis,” “truth,” and “investigative inquiry.”

I was immediately chary because the book is a frame narrative, or story within a story, a literary device that works with The Arabian Nights or The Canterbury Tales, but not as often as it is used. You see, when you wrap information around a fictional story, both the information you present and the fictional story have to be very, very good, and in the increasing number of Christian books — and movies — that employ this device, the fictional story is very, very bad.

As was the one in this book. The characters were shallow, trite, unengaging and one-dimensional, uttering dialogue like,

“Well gosh, Persephone, what does it mean to be a follower of Christ?”

Thank You, God, for Libraries

As a mature reader, however, I knew what I was getting into (which didn’t involve spending money, thank God for libraries), but skimmed through the pathetic story to grasp the scant, salient material that there was. After awhile, I began to think,

Good, well written books transport us to places of beauty, mystery, intrigue, and intellectualism. She Danced by the Light of the Moon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas.

“I’ve read this, somewhere, before.”

And I had. In the author’s Magnum Opus, of 30-some years ago. No new wisdom, no additional insight, just a poorly written frame story loosely presenting the same information regurgitated in new and uninspiring ways.

“But he’s making it more accessible to today’s reader!”

If today’s reader, today’s Christian, is a witless, cerebrally-starved insensate who cannot grasp words of more than two syllables, then this is the book — and the type of book — for him. But I refuse to believe that the vast majority of people in society, and especially its Christians, are this intellectually shallow.

Let’s Raise Our Standards

As a society, we have been dumbed down for years through our educational system, our media, and sadly, our religious organizations, to the point that too many people won’t touch Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein (it was a book long before there were movies), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, because “the sentences are too long and the words are too big.”

Okay, so go read Hemingway. Or Pearl S. Buck.

If you absolutely can’t read fiction, then advance beyond helping yourself all the time, and seek out thoughtful history, commentary, philosophy, and religion (which you won’t necessarily find in the “Christian” section, so check out different aisles in the library).

But seek out quality, books written with more than sales — based upon the author’s name — in mind and grow in your ability to analyze, investigate, scrutinize, interpret, and think. If you’ll give fiction — good fiction — a chance, you’ll find that it probes truth in ways that force you to ask questions and meditate, the very purpose of Jesus’ parables.

But whatever you do, reach up, intellectually, and demand food for the mind that nourishes, not Cheezy Wheezies that are easy to pop mindlessly into your mouth. We all know what a diet of Cheezy Wheezies looks like on our bodies, and in our lives.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I seek out, and encourage readers who want a real, deeper relationship with Christ than what they are finding in today’s pop evangelical culture.

I’m not famous; I’m not particularly well known, but I pray before I publish each article that the people who need to read the article, will. So if you’re with me on this page today, you are an answer to prayer. Believe — that God is real, that He is Who He says He is, and that He cares about you. By seeking Him earnestly — and not relying upon others to do this for you — you will grow closer to Him and find the joy we all seek.

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

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Reading Through the Bible in a Year (YAWN)

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This Article Really Isn’t about Sex

posted by Carolyn Henderson

This is a nice, neutral image for an article that isn’t about sex. That is, until you start to wonder — where are the people in the boats? And what are they doing? Picnicking, my friend. Is sex all that you think about? Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print from Great Big Canvas

Let’s talk about sex!

Oh, don’t shudder, or salivate, depending upon how the word — and the concept — affect you. Sex is a gift God gave us, and we’ve obviously used it, given the 7 billion of us wandering around on the planet.

Like any good thing, sex can be, and is, misused. To say that all sex, any way we want it, is fine, just fine, and that the Apostle Paul, when he talks about sexual immorality, is really talking about something else, is denial.

You’ll notice that I successfully manage to avoid specifics: I don’t want a firestorm descending upon my head, not so much because I dislike confrontation (although I do dislike it, actually) but because this article really isn’t about sex.

Dang.

It’s about money.

Cool.

Slapping People around with 1 Corinthians 6:9

Through the week, I read a good many Christian blogs that span the gamut from truly excellent to the wretchedly atrocious, and I know that at least once in a week, I will run across this verse from 1 Corinthians 6:9:

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

It’s a given that the verse will be aimed, straight at the heart, to people participating in numbers 1, 4, and 5 in the list of activities (out of 10, incidentally), and generally the tone is one of hostility and confrontation, which, as any highly paid business consultant instructs the crowded room of seminar participants, is not the best way to get people to listen to your message.

Number 7

But let’s drop numbers 1, 4, and 5 for now and look at number 7, which is easy to eclipse because it’s mixed in the muddle, and more importantly, because it’s something that many of us in highly materialistic countries like mine, the United States, don’t necessarily see as a problem, much less a sin:

In our short, brief life, we can bring beauty and joy to others, when we follow Christ and listen to His words. Purple Iris, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Greed. It’s right there, in the same list and the same room, with the big H-word, and that’s not the only place where the two snuggle up together. Ephesians 5:3 admonishes believers to exhibit not even a hint of “sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed,” and Colossians 3: 5 tells us to put to death “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

If you’re into classifying sins (which is a dreadful habit, really), you’d have to say that Greed is worse than Sexual Immorality because violates Exodus 20: 3-4 — and 17 — much longer passages than Exodus 20:14 (I’m using the New International Version).

Parsing Sin

Parsing sin, however, is a fruitless mental activity — with repercussions that lead to pointing the finger at others while we assiduously refrain from looking at our own activities. We can, and many of us do, say,

I don’t go into brothels,” but very, very few of us announce,

I don’t desire more than having my needs met. I don’t take more cake at the table than I could possibly eat. I don’t think about God far, far less than I do about a brand new car.”

It’s so much harder to see, which makes it more insidious, actually, because we can practice greed — idolatry — without anyone really seeing or noticing. And if they do, they’ll praise us for our acumen, cleverness, and cunning — words which imply deceit more than they do hard work and perseverance. This is not the way God wants us to be.

Something on the List for All of Us

Go back to 1  Corinthians 6: 9: it is a list of sins that God wants us to stop. For some of us, some of these will be easy to stop because we never started them in the first place: it’s pretty hard to call any woman a male prostitute.

But because there are 10 items, all of us can find at least one that applies — numbers 2, 7, and 9 look pretty universal — and before we use selective aspects as a whip on another person’s back, we might stop and be grateful that God works with us, patiently, when we push aside the person just in front of us so that we can grab the last loss-leader electronic device at the Black Friday sale.

“(God) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 9)

If that is God’s goal, we can make it ours as well.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I explore the challenges of living as a Christian — with grace, mercy, love, compassion, firmness, and righteousness — in a world that, rightly or wrongly, considers us a bunch of doofuses.

If we are going to be doofuses (or is it, “doofai”?), let it be for the right reasons — that we follow the wisdom of God which is foolishness to man — as opposed to being foolish ourselves, arrogant, proud, unyielding, and harsh.

Posts similar to this one are

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