Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Improving Your Meditation Skills

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Meditation is one of those words with multiple meanings, and some Christians are frightened by the concept because they think that meditating involves emptying their minds completely and allowing outside spiritual forces to fill the vacuum.

open Bible with reading glasses and hurricane lamp inspirational photo by Steve Henderson Fine Art

Meditating upon the word involves active, pronounced thinking — challenging our mind, not emptying it. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

(Interestingly, this is a good description of what happens when we sit in front of the TV, chips in hand, but for some reason we keep doing it.)

Emptying one’s mind, however, is not the only option (and indeed, not a valid one for Christians), and meditation upon Scripture involves actively using that mind as we contemplate, muse, ponder, and deliberate over what we are reading:

“His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2

Consider meditation as an extension of prayer, the fusion of which deepens our relationship with God. With that in mind, here are five thoughts to think about meditation, and making it a part of your life:

Alone with God

1) Find someplace quiet. Thinking requires concentration, and concentration is best accomplished without distraction. Some people find this on a solitary walk; others prefer a door with a lock.

“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6. Like most people, you may not have a lot of time in your day, but if getting up at 3:30 a.m. doesn’t appeal to you, then make the most of the time you have:

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” (Matthew 6:7)

If you only have 5 minutes, then use every one of those 300 seconds.

Consistency

2) Read the Bible on a regular basis. If memorizing verses is an agony to you, don’t worry about it — regular, consistent time with the Bible is enough to familiarize yourself with its content, and even if you don’t make a point of focusing on one verse for a week, truth will come to your mind when you need it, because you’ve tucked it away, somewhere, in that mind.

Queen Anne's Lace inspirational oil painting of young woman in meadow with flowers wearing lace shawl by Steve Henderson

Meditation is a two-person activity that involves you, and God. Queen Anne’s Lace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed open edition print at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

Look to the Bible as a source of truth, and you will find it:

“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living?  To the law and to the testimony!” (Isaiah 8: 19, 20)

No Worries

3) Throughout the day, muse on what you’ve read, as opposed to worrying, speculating about the future, or conducting fruitless conversations with imaginary people in your head.

“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands, and bind them on your foreheads.” (Deuteronomy 11: 17)

While we don’t have to literally slap post-it notes on the backs of our hands and on furniture, when we think about — meditate upon — the stories and histories and relationships and conversations we encounter in the Bible, we are training our mind to focus on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable,” (Philippians 4:8) and thereby decreasing our anxiety level.

Looking for God

4) Speaking of anxiety, it is frequently in times of stress and pain that we turn to God at all. The good thing is that we’re turning to Him; the bad thing is that worry, fear, and stress can act as mental barriers to hearing His teaching, which is one practical reason to meditate upon Christ’s rhetorical question,

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Matthew 6: 25)

Nobody prefers bad times to good, but if the circumstances are such that you realize things are out of control and only in the hands of God, you’re on the right track. Recognize this as a time to grow through your experience, continue reading, and actively pursue pondering about what you are reading. When you want to worry, force — literally force — your mind to think about something from the Bible. (If the tendency to fret is invasive enough, this might be a good time to decide that you want to memorize a verse, after all.)

Sometimes, what you read will seem applicable to your situation; other times, it won’t. Don’t obsess — just let your mind poke and prod and tease and question Scripture.

Give Thanks

5) Clear your mind of worry by being thankful.

Not for the problems — it’s perverse to pray, “Thank you, God, that I lost my job,” or, “I praise you for this cancer diagnosis.”

But in the midst of the crisis, focus on what isn’t going wrong: “Thank you that there’s enough food to eat.”

“Thank you that bad people aren’t breaking down my door at 3 a.m. and taking me away somewhere.”

“Thank you that the toilet isn’t overflowing.”

Mentally going over things to be thankful for stops the anxiety train, clears the brain, and enables us to prayerfully think — which is what meditation is all about.

Meditation isn’t magic, it doesn’t need to be done with a candle, you don’t need to sit a certain way, and you don’t need to say, “Om.”

When you practice it, however — reflecting upon Scripture, ruminating upon the stories and history of the Word, mentally lingering over a phrase or sentence — you subtly train your mind to be stronger, more focused, and directed on the right things — as you no longer “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12: 2)

Don’t be scared of meditation. Renew your mind with it.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I speak up as an ordinary, individual Christian. I don’t have a multi-million dollar budget, I don’t work through a “Christian” publishing house, and I don’t make movies.

I’m just one, small, tiny David in a world full of Goliaths, trying to point Christians back to the real thing, the real truth, as opposed to what we’re told, taught, and teased is supposed to be Christianity. If you like what you read, please pass me on. And don’t be afraid to start speaking up and out yourself, if you’re not already doing so.

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Are We Dumbing Ourselves Down?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I have a friend who worked for the medical publication industry — which creates articles and circulars that enjoin:

“Get your flu shot and eat those veggies!”

Years ago, she explained, the written material was created at various reading levels, with the premiere offerings targeted to grade 14 or 15 (a sophomore or junior at college), designed for consumers who were truly curious about healthcare issues and wanted sufficient information to make intelligent choices. That was years ago. Now, most of the material is aimed at the 6th grade level, with the information designed for public aid recipients targeted to the 3rd and 4th grade reading level, or below:

Provincial Afternoon inspirational oil painting of two girls in meadow reading books by Steve Henderson

Reading is of critical importance in creating an educated populace, and for many years, it was managed with just one book — the Bible — as a primary reading source. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

“Flu shots! Veggies!”

While this says something disconcerting about the attitude of the medical and corporate publication establishments toward people they consider poor, it also maligns our entire reading populace: our top readers are comfortable with the vocabulary, syntax, and content of the average 13-year-old, and if you’ve picked up a newspaper lately, or read an article online, you’ll notice that there’s not an abundance of detail, complexity, or sophistication to what, for many people, is the primary reading diet.

Dumbing Down is Dangerous

Why does this matter, other than that it’s insulting to our mental aptitude?

It matters because it’s dangerous. A population accustomed to a lower and lower reading level, its minds unengaged by written content’s demands that the reader comprehend, analyze, question, and discern, becomes dumbed down to the point that people accept what they’re told — not because the information is true, valid, or believable, but because it’s presented in the right fashion: belligerently, or calmly, but always confidently and with no allowance for disagreement.

Bill O’Reilly or Barack Obama, Glenn Beck or Henry Kissinger — it’s not what is said so much as how, and if you can make people feel reluctant to question your pronouncements, then dialogue, and the understanding that there is always more than one side to any argument, becomes obsolete. People won’t disagree simply because they don’t want to look dumb, and many people — insecure creatures that we are — labor under the belief that we ARE dumb — because we don’t hold the right degrees, make an outrageous salary at our job, or host a network news talk show.

Climb out of the Pit

But we’re not dumb, my friends, and one of the best ways we can climb out of this hole is to increase — not decrease — our reading ability. If you’re a Christian, you’ve got a book on your coffee table, written in your own language, that in years past — back when ordinary readers enjoyed Dickens and Austen, Twain and Bronte — was the first and/or primary reading resource of many: the Bible.

Grace inspirational original oil painting of woman in pink dress dancing on beach at ocean by Steve Henderson

Doing anything well takes practice, but reading, and reading well, is an option open to many who are letting the opportunity slide by. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed open edition print at Framed Canvas Art.

The apostle Peter, in 2 Peter 3:16, says about the apostle Paul’s writings: “His letters contain some thing that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Paul is, indeed, a difficult writer to understand, a true master at crafting long, grammatically correct sentences which in their English translation are replete with commas, semi-colons, prepositions, dependent clauses, and dashes, but it’s because he’s trying to go so much more beyond, “Jesus loves you,” to deeper truths that confirm, and re-confirm, the mystery of that love.

The more one reads the Bible, the better one gets at it, and in the process of absorbing the history of the Israelites in many of the Old Testament books, or the poetry of the psalms, or the metaphorical language of Isaiah and the prophets, or the difference in tone between the gospel writers Matthew and John, one becomes a more sophisticated reader, and one becomes able to stop and ask,

“Now what is being said here?”

Critical, Discerning, Skeptical — YES

As readers, we start to ask questions, seek answers, build our vocabulary, become comfortable with different writing styles and formats, and gain knowledge of truth that enables us to look at outside sources — the news, movies, TV shows, pop publications, novels, newsletters, press releases, political speeches, non-fiction books (some of which are more fiction than non), YouTube videos, and medical brochures written to third graders — with a more practiced, sophisticated, discerning, intelligent, skeptical eye.

And the beauty of this is that this education is open to anyone with the ability — or desire — to read, and a Bible written in his or her own language. Public aid recipients need not accept that they read at the third grade level, simply because government and corporate entities insist that they do. And indeed, Jesus’ message of hope — that there is life after death and its abundant beauty is available to ALL, not just a globalist few — is one that the poor, the downtrodden, the powerless, and the weak have gravitated to, because it gives us a hope far beyond anything that Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s widely publicized philanthropic productions could ever do.

Only rich people can become sophisticated at discerning the nuances in fine food or wine, because only they can afford to do so. But to become a sophisticated reader: that is within reach of us all, and it’s a far, far more important goal to achieve.

Which is why so much effort is being made these days, to dumb us all down.

Don’t succumb.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my major encouragement — always — is for individual Christians to grab onto their spiritual lives and get serious about getting to know God. This is done — not through following the exhortations of others and depending upon “experts” to interpret spiritual matters to them — but through communicating, directly through prayer, with God, and allowing Him to train us into becoming the person He has designed us to be.

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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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