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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Psychotic Cats and God’s Love

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I am writing this with a psychotic cat sleeping on my lap.

I recognize that, to people who don’t like cats (and even to many who do), ALL cats are psychotic, but this one is a rescue kitty, chosen by one of our adult children who wanted an animal to keep her company in her apartment, an apartment that does not allow animals, incidentally. So, we’re “babysitting” for an indefinite time.

Pscyho Kitty photo by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Fear and Love have a hard time walking hand in hand, and to experience the latter, we need to let go of the former. Psycho Kitty, photo by Steve Henderson.

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This kitty’s particular psychosis is that she likes to hide in small, dark spaces — under furniture — a non-endearing habit that does not lend itself to her feeling more comfortable around humans. So therapy includes a lot of holding, loving, and handling.

She eats it up. But —

If you leave her alone, unsupervised, she slinks away to the nearest dark receptacle and hides, preferring obscurity driven by fear to interaction and warmth. However her “thought process” works — limited to the size and scope of domestic felinity — she knows that while she enjoys being loved, she is nonetheless convinced that she won’t be.

Afraid of God

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This is a great encapsulation of how many Christians feel toward our Father in heaven — who is all love, all grace, all compassion, all warmth, all understanding, all goodness. We long for this love, search for acceptance, ache to be cherished and protected, and indeed, it is the central message behind Christianity. For many of us, it is the reason we became Christians in the first place.

(Others, not so fortunate, became Christians because they were told that, if they didn’t, the all-loving heavenly Father would send them to hell for eternity, and watch them burn. Even though He would fee bad about this, there was nothing He could do, because they didn’t turn to Him in trust and love. It’s highly understandable when people reject this belief system and look for something better.)

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But back to those of us who rejoiced at hearing about Jesus because we were told about His love — so wide and long and high and deep that it surpasses our ability to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18).

September inspirational original oil painting of still life floral and flowers with apple and pear fruit, by Steve Henderson

Our heavenly Father is the creator of beauty, color, laughter, comfort, joy, and the perfect, ripe, autumnal pear. This is whom we seek. September, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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The problem is, for us who were quickly plugged into a proper place of “worship” and “discipleship,” settled down with books and studies and resources to learn about not God, but how we are supposed to “follow” Him, we truly don’t understand the scope of God’s love — not because it’s so big that we can’t wrap our minds around it, but because it’s so parsimoniously small that it looks worse than our own feeble attempts at loving others.

Rules and Regulations

This is the God of rules — all of them backed by Scripture — and His goal is not to make us more like Him — loving and perfect and gracious and kind and compassionate and joyful — but to follow the rules.

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“We should obey the rules!” good citizens, and Christians who associate rule-keeping with righteousness (the word itself whispers “self” beforehand) insist. But rules, while not necessarily made to be broken, are made for a purpose — and when following the rules becomes more important than being the better person those rules are purported to encourage, then love, compassion, and acceptance absent themselves.

“Attend church. Read your Bible study guide. Pray 20 minutes every day. Obey the leaders. Join small groups. Tithe. Answer the moderator’s questions in Sunday School. Sing hymns and choruses and don’t complain about either. Only take one doughnut from the fellowship station.

“Don’t worry — because that’s a sin. Speak nicely about everyone — because otherwise it’s a sin. Trust God and love Him, or else you’ll sin. Think nice thoughts. Bad thoughts are a sin.”

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We sin. And we sin. And we sin. And we sin.

And because we are reminded, all the time, of how every thought, every desire, every impulse, every single thing about us is sinful, we tend to think that God is focused on that, and He won’t love us the way we long for Him to love us (the way we were promised that He would love us), until we follow all the rules, just right.

Think Opposites

But this is backwards. We cannot earn God’s love by doing right, but we can accept what He gives us, though we are still doing wrong:

“Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.

“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” (Romans 4:7-8)

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That is a blessing indeed, and one for which we can thank God, who justifies us freely by His grace, through Christ (Romans 3:24). He is our Father, and regardless of what our own experiences with earthly fatherhood looks like, deep down we all know that you don’t comfort a rescue kitty by yelling at it, you do not encourage a child to behave with honor by publicly humiliating him.

If we know this, God knows it better, because He is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Psalm 103:8)

“For a high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (11, 12)

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This describes a God of love, not rules and regulations, and how deeply we understand this depends, a bit, on which God we’re looking for.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I encourage you to seek — with passion and expectation — the deep, true, fulfilling love of God. It’s not worth looking for anything else.

Posts complementing this one are

Finding the True God When We’re Worshiping the Wrong One

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Three New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

Angry Jesus — I Don’t Want to Follow Him, Either

The Misfit Christian (my book for people who start looking for God’s love as opposed to worrying about following all the rules they’re told He set up)

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Finding the True God When We’re Worshiping the Wrong One

posted by Carolyn Henderson

There is a tiresome joke among Christians about patience that goes like this:

“I don’t want to pray for patience, because by golly, God will send me all sorts of circumstances to try it!”

Ha Ha.

Riverside Muse inspirational original watercolor of woman by banks of stream by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART

Understanding the nature of God is a lifetime pursuit that requires much time alone with our Father. Riverside Muse, original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Art. com, Amazon, AllPosters. com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART

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What’s not so funny is that, deep down, many people actually believe this, reflecting their impression of a marionette god, one that pulls our strings as if we were puppets, and if we don’t pray correctly — with enough caveats  so that God doesn’t sadistically misinterpret what we really mean — we’ll wind up in trouble.

So, when we pray for patience, God gives a diabolical laugh (bit of an oxymoron there) and says, “Yesssssssss, my foolish child. I will give you all sorts of opportunities to develop patience!”

The Wrong God

Quite frankly, if that’s the kind of God we believe in, or we can even remotely attribute behavior to Him that, exhibited in a human, could rightly be called perverse, unkind, harsh, unfeeling, or callous, then we need to stop, reflect, pray, meditate, and ask God to show us who He actually is:

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How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1 exults. “And that is what we are!”

Loving Fathers Don’t Provoke

This heavenly Father of ours has a far greater moral compass than we do, and if we, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to our children — bread, when they ask for bread; fish, and not snakes, when they ask for fish (Matthew 7:11) — then why do we belabor under the misapprehension that when we ask our heavenly Father for something we need — like patience, trust,  or faith — that He’s going to answer the prayer in a fashion so distasteful and cruel, that we humans would never dream of treating our own children that way?

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“Ah, but His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways,” people so frequently misapply Isaiah 55:8 to explain away, or squash down, doubts about certain teachings we are instructed to believe (they vary, within the denominations) without keeping in mind another verse in Isaiah, 29:13, in which the same God observes our tendency to worship Him in light of the rules and doctrines taught by men.

The Doctrines of Men

Now it’s not necessarily so that human doctrine specifically teaches that God is nasty, but some of the beliefs we try to squish our feet into wind up pinching our toes. As a human, if your child ran into a house — against your express command — and that house began to burn, would you turn around and walk away, with the justification of, “I told him not to go in there, and he deliberately chose to disobey me”?

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Beachside Diversions inspirational original oil painting of mother and child on ocean sand by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, AllPosters.com, Art.com, Amazon.com, and Framed Canvas Art

Commonsense tells us that what is good parenting in humans, is the least we can expect from our heavenly Father. Beachside Diversions, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Art. com, Amazon, AllPosters. com, Framed Canvas Art, and Great Big Canvas

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I don’t think so. If God would, then it is indeed true that His ways are not our ways, because our ways are better.

And that definitely ain’t so.

It’s not enough to say that we’ll understand someday, while we’re up in the bliss of heaven, which will somehow be perfect even though a number of our loved ones won’t make it because they didn’t say the right series of salvation words, in the right order, with the correct spiritual mindset, because if we cannot rely upon the deepest sense of our conscience — which God put within us — to help us differentiate between right and wrong, honorable and cowardly, righteous and evil — then what can we rely on?

If God seems small and mean — and the god that many people try so hard to follow does seem that way — then the problem may lie in the way we are viewing Him, defining Him, interpreting Him.

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What may be known about God is plain to us, because God made it plain to us — “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Roman 1:19-20)

Good Parenting

This means that when we muse, “Gosh. If my child asked for help on a science project, I wouldn’t go out to the bar and drink,” we are exhibiting not only an understanding of good parenting, but of goodness itself.

As part of that good parenting, most of us wouldn’t take the project over from the kid and do it, and our help may possibly look different than what the child is expecting or hoping (especially if it’s the day before the project, given 8 months ago, is due). But because we are our child’s parent, he rightfully expects that, when he needs help and asks for it, we have an obligation to give it — kindly, wisely, graciously, mercifully, and well.

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So also, can we expect fair, good, loving treatment from our Father, and when we are hurting and cannot understand, it is far better to approach Him with confidence and say, “I am hurting. I am confused. I don’t understand what is going on. But You do — and You are not cruel to your children. Walk me through this.”

Our first thought should never be one of doctrine, based upon man’s interpretation of words, but rather, the acceptance and awareness that God. Is. Love.

He is all good. He is all light. He is all that is perfect and desirable and compassionate. He is the ultimate of what we mean by the word, “humane,” because He is divine.

If any thought, any doctrine, any teaching, any precept leads us to think of God as other than completely loving and kind to His children, then we need to adjust our ideas about the doctrine, not our ideas about God.

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So about that patience — if you feel the need to pray for it, then do so with confidence and trust, knowing that the very reason you feel such a desire to ask for it, is because God put that desire into your heart.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where for years I tried to love an unlovable God. When I began reading Scripture for myself, seriously, and praying for God’s teaching, I began to notice that quite a few things I had been taught don’t align well with what’s actually written in the Bible.

So I went on the one thing that keeps getting repeated: God is our loving Father, and I built on that. I would so rather know my Father than all the theological and philosophical arguments about Him.

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Posts complementing this one are

God — Coming out of the Closet

Grasping the Goodness of God

No Fear — Experience Christ’s True Love

 

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Three New Year’s Resolutions You Can Actually Keep

posted by Carolyn Henderson

The problem with New Year’s resolutions isn’t that they’re easy to make and difficult to keep — which is true on both counts — it’s that we feel like such failures when we fall, and give up, mid-February, on the notion of changing for the better.

Morning's Glory inspirational original oil painting of floral rose still life of flowers in vase by Steve Henderson

We all want a fresh start, with new growth and beauty — so let’s leave our New Year’s resolutions up to God. Morning’s Glory, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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While it’s always good to change for the better, it’s never easy, which is why — to make true, lasting change — we need Someone bigger, stronger, better, wiser, and more understanding and compassionate than we are in charge of the project. That Someone is God, and in working together on changing us for the better, our part is ridiculously easy and supremely difficult: all we have to do is ask, and trust that He will answer (what parent wouldn’t, when his child says, “Father — mold me into a better person, please”?)

This year — no matter where we are in the year — I encourage you to ask God to make three significant changes in your life:

1) God, Wake me up.

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We don’t need an erudite scarecrow to tell us that things aren’t looking too good in Kansas, Dorothy, nor in any corner of the world we inhabit. Deceit is the norm, and too few people are making too many of the decisions resulting in too much of the money in those very few hands. The only thing ordinary people see more of are rules, regulations, restrictions, and requirements.

If this concept is foreign to you, or if you feel that I am overreacting, then go to the sentence next to the number 1 above and say it.

“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you,” Paul quotes in Ephesians 5:14.

“Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”

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The days were evil 2,000 years ago, and they are evil now — there was no respite, say, in the 1950s when Beaver and Wally shared a bedroom together — when life was halcyon and innocent, although we like to think it was so because mass media — through books, movies, network news, and TV — encourages us to look for a make believe time that never existed.

There is no better time to go back to — there is only now, and now is imbued with evil. Ask God to wake you up to what that evil is, so that you can separate truth from a lie — in politics, education, society, entertainment, medicine, law, and certainly NOT least — religion.

2) Lord, I want to see.

This is what a blind beggar outside of Jericho said to Jesus when our Brother and Lord asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41). This incident occurred after the beggar incurred public censure and displeasure by refusing to shut up and continued to shout out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

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The New Hat inspirational original oil painting of nostalgia 1940s woman in Victorian house in front of mirror by Steve Henderson

Given that we are made in the image of God, it’s important to have an idea of what He looks like, and we can’t do this if our mirror is cloudy. The New Hat, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

The beggar knew he was blind, and he wanted to see.

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Many Christians today are blind as well — blithely satisfied with weekly church meetings, leadership activities, and study groups — but unlike the beggar, they don’t realize it. They listen to the news but never question it; they ascribe to doctrines about which non-Christians ask very reasonable questions, but refuse to look into the matter because doubt, to them, is a sin.

But doubt isn’t a sin: it is simply a logical mind questioning whether what it has been told is true. Only an idiot would walk across a woven grass bridge without making sure it will carry his weight, and only a foolish person pursues a spiritual life without stopping and asking questions of himself — and God — when man-made doctrines do not align with a perfect, compassionate, all-loving God.

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If God to you seems at all frightening, in any measure irritable, easily offended, remorseless in His punishment, and/or random, then you are worshiping a substitute for the real thing. But don’t feel bad: this substitute is what is taught in mainstream Christianity — a God who consigns 6-year-old children to hell (5 being the “age of reason” that man has come up with) because they don’t follow the Four Spiritual Laws (also man-made), in order.

If that sounds simplistic, it is, but so are the four spiritual laws.

Do you want to see God — the real one, the Father who loves you more than you can possibly treasure one of your own? Then go back to Step 2, and pray the sentence.

3) I want to hear.

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Noise surrounds us everywhere and all the time, and too many people have ear buds in, or the television on, absorbing the chatter.

“Consider carefully how you listen,” Jesus tells His disciples in Luke 8:18, right after He explained to them the meaning of the parable of the sower and his seeds.

“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.”

While some people interpret this last sentence to involve money, or things, Jesus has just been talking about hearing, and listening, and absorbing what we have heard.

It’s only natural that, when we hear something that rocks our world — say, a treasured idol is just so, a person with a heart of stone; or an historical event we’ve always been taught happened a certain way has an opposite element that no public-school-sanctioned textbook bothered to mention — we want to close our eyes, stop our ears, and pretend we never learned this.

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But truth is truth, and “there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out in the open.” (Luke 8:17).

When information comes your way that is disturbing because it shakes your preconceptions, stop. Sit. Close your eyes. And then pray:

“God. Is this true?”

These three New Year’s resolutions are ones we can keep, because the fulfillment of them is not up to us, but to God. When we pray: “Wake me up,” “Open my eyes,” and “Unstop my ears,” He will — through books, people, blogs, observations, even the actions of the family cat.

Thank You

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Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. I started asking the three questions in this article several years ago, after giving up on, “Why, God — WHY?” because the answers I was given to that kept showing me that many things I had been taught to believe were quite oppositional to the actual truth.

Once I got over the heavily pushed association of God and country, military patriotism intertwined with the Divine, and had numerous human idols — historical and living now — toppled from the pedestals they had been placed on, I began asking the questions in earnest — and God kept sending answers.

They’re worth asking, my friend.

Posts complementing this one are

Mass Manipulation by the Mass Media

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Why Do We Follow Celebrity Christians?

Are House Cats Smarter Than Humans?

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Four Thoughts about Thanking God

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Saying Thank You to God does not have to be a chore — but then again, given the way we are instructed to do things within a cold, contemporary, corporate Christian environment, it is a bit difficult:

“We must thank God for everything,” we are admonished, or . . . what? He’ll kick us?

Eyrie inspirational original oil painting of grand canyon sprite facing the sunrise by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, art.com, amazon.com, Framed Canvas Art and iCanvasART.

If we ask Him, God will teach us to have a spirit of thankfulness that turns its face to His light. Eyrie, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon. art. com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Actually, the apostle Paul’s oft quoted words of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 — “Give thanks in all circumstances,” reflect the important prepositional distinction of “in” as opposed to “for,” meaning that, when the cat throws up on the new white carpet we don’t have to be thankful for what just happened. We just don’t kick the cat.

The funny thing about our relationship with God is, that though we insist that He’s a person and and we interact with Him on a personal level, we frequently don’t treat Him as if we believed this. Getting into the practice of saying Thank You to Him, on a regular basis, however, is one way we can connect more closely to Him on that personal level we so deeply desire and desperately need.

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Thank You Notes

Many of us have had, somewhere during our childhood, a determined adult who put our recently opened Christmas or birthday gifts to the side, set us down at a table with pen and paper, and said,

“Write a nice, brief Thank You note to the people who took the time and resources to give you these gifts.”

(Or, at the very least, yelled out from the kitchen, “Did you thank Aunt Mary for the lime green leather dress shoes?”)

In the spirit of that Thank You note, here are some ideas on how we can incorporate a genuine, real, and regular Thank You to God into our daily lives:

Talk to Him

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1) We can feel free to use a conversational tone. The best thank you notes are short, succinct, and clear, as are verbal thank yous, the chief and foremost words being, “Thank You.”

Throughout the day, as things happen,  I stop, take a moment, and say (aloud if no one’s in the room but the dog snoring in corner),

“Thank you that phone call from my friend, and that we were able to work out our disagreement. I had no idea that my words had been so misunderstood.”

In the same way we wouldn’t write or say, “Oh, wonderful giver of this precious gift, I thank Thee for all thy bounty and affection,” we have no obligation to talk to God this way. It artificially distances us.

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Little Things Matter

2) Let us be grateful for small things. Not all gifts are lofty and expensive, but that’s not the beauty of a gift. Gifts are a tangible sign of the giver’s care for us.

For many years, a very dear and good man sent us cards and notes, and never failed to tuck in two $1 bills, and while that seems like a treasure trove to a five-year-old, it can easily be discounted by an adult.

White on White inspirational original oil painting floral still life of roses in a vase by Steve Henderson

Gifts reflect the life, form, beauty, and love that the giver hold in his or her heart for us. White on White, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

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But it should not be. Those two bills were precious to a man with limited financial resources but a big heart, and we always took a moment to be grateful as we opened the card, as well as wrote sincere thanks in our next letter.

God gives us many precious and beautiful gifts throughout the day that we overlook, because they seem like two one-dollar bills: a compliment on how we look from a co-worker, a good night’s sleep, hot tea on a cold day, the dishes we expect to do on getting home from work already cleaned, dried and put away.

These are not the less for being small, and after we thank the person who has provided the present, we thank the Giver of All Things as well, that He prompted His children to be generous.

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No Buts

3) We have a tendency to say, “Thank you, but . . . “

From the time our children were small, we gave them to understand that, while we spent a significant amount of time thinking of the perfect gift for their birthdays and other holidays, we would never include a CD, DVD, or digital item in that list. Mass media products are, in our mind, narrow in their interest and value, and with the limited amount of funds we always had, we wanted the gifts we gave to be memorable.

The kids understood this — although until they were older they were sometimes vaguely irritated — but at no time would they have dreamed, after opening a box, of saying,

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“This is okay, Mom and Dad. But I really, really wanted the DVD of that movie I told you about!”

Yet so often with God, when He sends an unexpected boon our way — the money to pay a bill that we were worried about, say — we mentally blurt out,

“I’m glad this bill is paid, but I really wish You had sent more so that I could have some fun!”

Getting into the habit of this is easy (because frankly, there is no end to the things we need, or think we need) but we lose in the end, because we don’t feel the joy of the gifts we are given.

“What’s This Thing?”

4) Some gifts aren’t what we asked for at all.

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Those of us with children, especially children who have just attended Vacation Bible School, have been presented with some truly dreadful gifts, and the average refrigerator door of a parent who treasures his or her children definitely does not look like something to be found in Martha Stewart’s house.

But odd gifts aren’t useless ones, and when we make a commitment to use what we are given (“If it breaks, well, then I don’t have to worry about it anymore”) we  are frequently surprised that the gifts aren’t so useless after all.

God’s gifts may seem odd, but they are never useless, and if we ask Him how to use what He has supplied, He will generously show us.

Being thankful is a mindset that we can cultivate — toward other human beings, toward life, and most especially, toward God, and as with any other habit, it improves with practice.

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Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I am thankful for this forum on which I can write, and for the wonderful readers who read my articles, and so frequently reach out to comment.

Posts complementing this one are

 

Grasping the Goodness of God

Rich Christian, Poor Christian — Which Are You?

Child of God — You Are Much Beloved

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