Don’t Give up Your Saturdays

The story of the painting, Saturday by Steve Henderson, at Start Your Week with Steve:

Especially in today’s world, not everyone’s weekend falls on Saturday. But the concept of Saturday — a day, or at least a portion of it, that belongs to us — is something we all want and need. One cannot work, work, work all the time without resting, both physically and mentally, from the demands of daily life.

Saturday inspirational original oil painting of sailboat on sound by Steve Henderson

Whether your Saturday is actually on Saturday or Tuesday, you need time off from all the obligations shouting at you.

The painting Saturday is a gentle journey through a hidden inlet. It is a sunny day, with a mild breeze, and the only sound is that of the birds, the wind against the sails, and the lap of water against the boat. It is a time for one’s thoughts to wander in no particular direction, and while there are informal plans to eat lunch sometime, there is no schedule, no specific task that must be done.

Saturday is a reminder that life consists of many things, and relaxation is one of them. In a corporate society, it is easy to fall into the misconception that we must be efficient, driven, organized, dynamic, and productive at all times, and any slowing down is a sign of weakness. But slowing down, taking time to think, to breathe, to dream, to meditate, is a vital component to our contentment as human beings, and indeed, when we don’t slow down, we are too tired, often, to maintain the grueling pace that we have convinced ourselves is normal.

We all need Saturday.

Saturday is an original oil painting, 12 x 12 on panel, framed, and is available directly through Steve Henderson Fine Art. It may also be purchased through Houzz, the popular site for interior designers and residential homeowners and renters redecorating their living space.

Read the rest at Start Your Week with Steve, and enjoy Steve’s latest YouTube Video, Stretching Canvas: An Overview of the Material and Process:

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Your Name Matters to God

It’s embarrassing how many names I know, of people I’ve never met.

As the product of my generation, I spent many hours after school watching an assortment of eminently forgettable TV shows, only they must not be that forgettable since I can sing the intro songs, as well as give the names of the people who played the various characters.

Field of Dreams inspirational original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art

Our lives are like the flowers of the field — here today — gone tomorrow, and the legacy we leave behind has much to do with the way we have loved others while we were here. Field of Dreams, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art.

While this is sad, what is even sadder is that I am not alone, and a whole new generation of children is wasting away hours in front of a screen, learning a whole new crop of forgettable names and eminently forgettable TV shows and movies.

Names are actually precious things, given to many of us by parents who spent hours wrangling over the perfect appellation for their son or daughter. Some people are named after relatives. Others are named quite creatively, with spelling that will make future elementary school teachers stumble over pronunciation.

Regardless of how or what we are named, our names matter — not because they are well known, not because we are famous, not because everyone recognizes our name — but because our names are part and parcel to who we are, and God knows those names.

Recently, in the book of Jeremiah, I ran across four unusual names — Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur — and if you don’t recognize these names, or can’t pronounce them, don’t feel bad. neither did I, and neither can I.

But the thing about these names is that, at the time Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur lived, they were pretty impressive people — in their own eyes at least — because they were important administrators in the household of the last king of Judah in Israel, Zedekiah. So to them, and to many people around them, their names mattered more than most, because they were more influential and powerful than most.

This is a way of thinking that does not change through history, and in present day, we see all sorts of names — most of them more pronounceable — of people who are more influential and powerful than most, who consider themselves, and their names, more important than most.

So also does the media, because it does its best to put these names, and their words, before the rest of us, and if we don’t watch ourselves, we will tend to think — along with the influential and powerful people — that they really are more important than the rest of us, simply because we know their names.

But quite fortunately, in the eyes of the One Person who truly matters, God, there is no favoritism (Romans 2:11) based upon income, education level, family connections, or media hype. He has called us by name, and we are His. (Isaiah 43:1)

Your name matters. You matter. And while you may hang your head, sometimes, because your name isn’t as well known as the least of these that shows up in a media magazine, or because those around you do not snap to attention when your name is called out, don’t. When you’re tempted to wish that you, too, could be rich and famous and powerful and influential and . . . important, say to yourself Shephatiah, Gedaliah, Jehucal, and Pashhur (if you can remember them, that is) and understand that, while they were moderately well known in their own time and place, and while they’re even listed in a book that millions of people read — nobody now knows their names.

It doesn’t matter if men know your name. It matters that God does.

Please join me at my column, Commonsense Christianity, BeliefNet, where I write more about this in Four Important Men You’ve Never Heard of.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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The False Promotion — and Real Demotion — of the Family

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wholeheartedly believing two opposite statements, cleverly presented, simultaneously.

Take the concept of family, for example.

Sophie and Rose inspirational original oil painting of woman and little girl hanging up clothes outside Victorian home at ocean beach by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, great big canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

The home, and the family that lives within it, is truly the castle of the ordinary person, and we need to keep it safe from outsiders, who want to destroy us. Sophie and Rose, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, amazon.com, Art.com, AllPosters.com, Framed Canvas Art, and iCanvasART.

For years, the government and mass media systems have been promoting the message that “family is dysfunctional,” which is why there are public agencies purporting to protect children, doing so primarily do by removing children from their homes.

And while it is argued that these children are in danger, and must be kept safe, the reality is that these agencies operate without any meaningful oversight, resulting in some children being removed from bad situations, but many other children being removed from decent ones.

Families are dysfunctional, is the mantra, chanted so loudly and persistently that it isn’t unreasonable for people to throw up their hands and say, “The family is toast. It’s gone. It just doesn’t work anymore.”

And then, these same agencies — government and mass media — pull the string and yank the listeners by turning completely around and saying,

“Family is the most meaningful thing there is.”

This counter message is emphasized by politicians, “successful” businessmen (success, in our country, by the way, means making lots and lots of money, not being loved by people who accept you as you are), and mass media celebrities who weepingly and haltingly speak of how much their family means to them, so much more so than their money, their position, their fame, and their power.

(The impression is given that provided one is smart enough, one can have it all — money, power, fame, name, and family, in equal measure. The reality that most ordinary people find is that we frequently work hard for little, and we’d all like a little bit more, but nothing compensates for the people in our lives: our parents, children, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents and grandchildren and friends.)

Yes, in every family there is some element of dysfunctionality, but this is not so much a family matter as it is a human one. For all that we discuss dysfunctional families, how often do we converse about (or even admit the existence of) the dysfunctionality of our government, our workplaces, our corporate society, our entertainment industry, our schools, our medical system, and our insurance agencies?

And in that latter list, is it possible to find an agent, a representative, an associate, a manager, or a civil servant who would love us, speak up for us, and sacrifice anything at all for us? And yet, somewhere within any family or circle of friends, there is someone who will do so.

Family and friends matter. It is something to keep in mind in a society that promotes consumerism, a constant dissatisfaction that we are not good enough without the newest phone, a bigger car, a house in a better neighborhood.

Tune out the white noise. Turn off the media voices. Look at the people in your life whom you were given, and recognize that you are the only person in the world with this specific set of family and friends.

As the charge card commercials say (but don’t believe) — this is priceless.

To read more about family and friends, and their true worth in our lives, please follow the link my my Commonsense Christianity blog article at BeliefNet, Family and Friends Are Not Dysfunctional.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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If He’s Famous, and He Says It, Do We Believe It?

We are a culture saturated in celebrity worship.

This isn’t surprising, given that mass media — through TV, movies, social media, newspapers, magazines, advertising, and incessant digital nagging from our “smart” phones — infects every moment of our lives.

ridge top view inspirational original oil painting of trees and alpine view in mountains by Steve Henderson

We long for life at the top, where the view is so much better, we think. But it’s a bit cold up there, away from all the regular people. Ridge Top View, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

(We allow it in, you know; we can usher it out as well. It’s just a matter of turning off a device and deciding to steep a pot of tea and pick up an intelligently written book instead.)

But because our lives revolve around the faces of people we don’t really know, but think we do, we vicariously follow the appearance of their lives, too often adjusting the way we think and live by what our favorite Famous Face is doing and saying.

When a funny comedian stops in the midst of his monologue, looks us in the eye (through the screen) and says something poignant, we tear up and say, “Such profound thought!”

Or when a country music singer croons about the most important thing in life being friends and family, and fame meaning nothing, we fall right for it: “Ohhh. They’re right. Family is all that matters.” Which is true, by the way, but we never stop to ask the singer, “If you’re spending all your time on the road singing this song, when do you actually spend time with the friends and family you talk about? Fame must mean a bit more than you’re admitting.”

When a newscaster pauses, as if overcome by emotion, and then bravely moves on with his discourse, we think, “He is such a deep, deep man. I can trust everything he says.”

Lately, I ran into a series of sentences by a Famous Face talking about how he is questioning everything, stopped short by all that is going on in the world, and turning to God for wisdom and guidance. It was all very sweet, but I couldn’t help thinking,

“You’re only now noticing that things are kinda screwed up? And for all that you give the impression about spirituality being important in your life — this impression being a major factor why people trust you in the first place — you’re only now seriously turning to God?”

I know. I know. Repentance is something that hits many of us, at some point, when we quite suddenly realize that we’ve been on the wrong path (oftentimes we’ve been suspecting it  for awhile, but haven’t wanted to face).

So this is, indeed, what could be happening to this Famous Face. The problem is, however, that true repentance results in genuine change — not only in the person and his attitudes, but frequently in the circumstances of his life. The Apostle Paul comes to mind, a man who was rising rapidly in the man-made leadership sect, whose ultimate earthly end was a bit different than it would have been if he had stayed in the system, speaking the words it told him to say.

Or as James says in 2:14,

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?”

In other words, if the words of the Famous Face are just that — well placed phrases presented with the emotion and skill of a trained actor — then there will be not changes made, and we in the masses should think twice about falling for what could literally be a line, simply because it is said so well, so poignantly, and so publicly, by a person we know no better than as a face, and a torso, whom we see on the screen.

Discernment, my brothers and sisters — let us pray for discernment.

And let’s make a choice, more often, to turn off whatever is talking at us, steep that cup of tea, and find an intelligent book.

Independent thinkers — and that is what Christians should be — will find this process easier if they leave mass media behind, and focus on the real, flesh-and-blood individuals in their lives. To read more about this, please read When Powerful People Repent — Is It Real? at my Commonsense Christianity blog, BeliefNet.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

 

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God Just Called Himself a Chicken!

When someone calls us a chicken, most of us don’t take it as a compliment.

But when God describes Himself as a chicken, as He does in Luke 14:34-35, it’s worth pausing over the passage and meditating:

Two mother hens with baby chicks photo courtesy Steve Henderson Fine Art

It is no insult to be called a chicken, because for her size, a mother hen is a veritable lion. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you were not willing!”

If you are fortunate enough to have free-ranging chickens in your life, and you let the roosters do their job, you’ll at some point wind up with broody hens, and several weeks after that, a bunch of fluff balls.

And the one thing you will immediately notice is that the mother hen, which you’ve generally associated to be a, well, dumb chicken, is all of a sudden changed:

She stands up straighter. She is alert for danger. And when she makes a specific clucking noise, all of her chicks come running and she enfolds them under her wings. They are safe there.

In the same way, when Jesus called the children of Jerusalem to His side, He was offering them His grace, His mercy, His protection, and His love — in exchange for their leaving behind what they were doing and running to His arms.

And they didn’t want to do this.

Today, we who call ourselves Christians and say how much we love Jesus and how we follow Him and do everything He tells us to do — have the opportunity to run to Him for His protection and grace, in the shelter of His wings finding the rest and solace that we need.

Do we run there? Or do we stay out in the field — where the cat is stalking — intent upon our structured Bible studies and small groups and ministry opportunities and all the things that we are determined are valuable and needed, and ignore God’s voice when we hear it?

Because, while all the “stuff” we do isn’t necessarily without value, it is worthless when we do it outside of God’s direction and voice:

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:22-23)

The children of Jerusalem over whom Jesus lamented had no dearth of religious projects in which to be involved: there were priests and leaders, Pharisees and Sadducees, there were laws to follow and oaths to fulfill and tithes to give and public prayers to say. But Jesus wanted them to drop all that and run to Him.

And they wouldn’t.

Will we?

I promise you that, if you listen for God’s voice and run toward it, you will run away from convention and acceptability, social approval and man’s praise, but in exchange, you will run straight into the arms — and wings — of God.

Read more about God, chickens, you, and me at my Commonsense Christianity blog, BeliefNet, What Chickens Teach Us about God.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

 

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Big Business Christianity

As Christians, we talk, and think, a lot like office workers:

We are intentional.

We are dynamic.

We are community.

We all love the office, but not when our Christianity mirrors its atmosphere. "Fellowship" and "discipleship" are much more than this. NBC photo credit: Paul Drinkwater

We all love the office, but not when our Christianity mirrors its atmosphere. “Fellowship” and “discipleship” are much more than this. NBC photo credit: Paul Drinkwater

We work as a team and we are family.

We pursue excellence.

We focus on numbers — those sitting in the pews and the amount given in the plate — and we revolve our social life (“fellowship and discipleship time”) around small groups and tightly structured Bible studies.

We buy the same devotional book and plod through it, one chapter at a time, and discuss its ramifications upon the successful outcome of our spiritual walk, for which we have set goals.

We have annual meetings, during which members of the community review the budget (which is already set, incidentally) and listen to reports from various boards. Using Robert’s Rule of Order, we vote for elders, deacons, and deaconesses, from a list of two or three names carefully pre-selected for us, with the expectation that the resulting vote will be unanimous. (I’ll never forget the surprise of the “leadership board” the year they had to report, for the first time, the unintentional results of the election. They were unable to say, as they had in the past, that the voting was unanimous, and rather than mention this, they simply said that candidates A, B, and C had been voted back into office. I know of at least two “no,” votes, and I’m pretty sure leadership knew who cast them.)

It’s not that organization and efficiency are bad. It is, however, that they increasingly shape the form, function, and appearance of the Christian church, and every day, establishment Christianity looks more and more just like that: a reflection of the corporate world.

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of child and woman reading book at beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at art.com, amazon.com, Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

Family, the real thing, is worth pursuing, not the substitute that corporations — secular and religious — offer. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, icanvasart, Framed Canvas Art, amazon.com, and art.com

But this is not what we are called to be: the church is not a worldwide council, led by a few well-known names that seem intent upon promoting themselves into family dynasties. The more we look into Christian organizations, Christian publications, Christian media, Christian mega-churches, Christian mega-celebrities, the more we see what looks like big business, with the name of Jesus slipped in.

“But there is strength in numbers,” people say. “So much more can be done for Jesus when we pull together into an organization, and that organization cooperates with governments, social agencies, universities, and even political leaders.”

But the movement, the way, started with a carpenter who went around with a bunch of fishermen, and when that carpenter talked about power and strength, He was talking about His Father, who still operates today. That same power is accessible to each and every individual believer, who chooses to leave his own life behind, and follow the will and way of God:

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

We are not office workers, minions under management who can only do something significant if it is part of some great and glorious man-made ministry; we are God’s children, each of us dearly loved, and each of us able to be great indeed, especially when we follow, and pay attention, the words of our Eldest Brother in Mark 9:35:

“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

How many Christian corporations put that one into their mission statement?

To read more on this matter, please follow the link to Corporate Christianity: How to Stop Thinking Like Office Workers at Commonsense Christianity, BeliefNet.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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Why It Feels So Good to Be Wrong

Anybody remember 2012?

I know, it seems so three years ago, but at one time 2012 was all the rage because the world was supposed to end sometime that year — whether it was the sun blowing up or the Mayan calendar running out of space — and lots of people made movies and books and predictions and money talking about 2012.

The Divide inspirational original oil painting of mountain and alpine lake by Steve Henderson

God alone is the one who makes mountains, and God alone is the one who is never wrong. We can depend upon Him for that. The Divide, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Because we live in a culture that operates in 15-minute segments, few of us pause from checking Facebook to stop and think about things 30 minutes in the past, or more — but it’s a good thing to get into a habit of doing.

When we do — start thinking, asking questions, being awake — we begin to realize how many things we are told throughout the day — on the news, in our classrooms, at the workplace, in the church — that we accept as truth, largely because they are stated with confidence, assertiveness, and an expectance that we will acquiesce.

But go back a year or two and review the predictions of the analysts, the assertions of the news commentators, the prophetic utterances of religious speakers who purport to speak for God — were they right?

The answer is, probably not, in which case, the next questions is, why do we continue to pay attention to these people?

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?” God asks Job in 39:1.

“Do you count the months till they bear? Do you know the time they give birth?”

As an owner of goats, I do count the months from the time we breed our does until their expected due date, and while I can be approximately right — within a week or so, and this only if I witnessed the actual breeding moment, which my kids always consider disgusting — I do not know the exact hour, or even day, when they will give birth.

Nor how many kids they bear. Nor the gender of the kids.

And while there are a whole lot of things I do not know in this one matter — which seems small and insignificant in comparison to the big picture of life and history and the cosmos as a whole — God not only knows it, He knows about the rest of life and history, the cosmos as a whole, your life and mine, and the true ramifications of what the talking heads and torsos prattle on and on about in the evening news.

He is never wrong.

We consistently are.

And in that latter truth there is an odd comfort — that we are wrong but He never is — because it takes the pressure off of our having to put all the pieces together, perfectly and consistently, or else the whole world — or at least the part of it that matters to us — will fall apart.

We can discuss, we can analyze, we can predict, we can draw what we think to be logical conclusions from the facts we are given, but ultimately, no human being can tie all those facts together in a handkerchief and say,

“Here. This is what will happen.”

And that’s okay, because as long as we trust in the one and only person who knows the future and can walk us through it — and not the voices of men who aver that they are the experts to whom we should listen — we’ll be on the right path.

It’s Comforting to Be Wrong — that’s more on this topic at my BeliefNet column, Commonsense Christianity. I am always grateful for those of you who click through.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

 

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Half Empty? or Half Full?

The story of the painting September, by Steve Henderson, at Start Your Week with Steve.

Autumn is such a happy time.

September inspirational original oil painting still life flower floral by Steve Henderson

September is a season of completion and beauty — completely full of joy and bounty. Original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Those who tend to see the glass half-empty point out that it’s a time of everything dying, and the color we enjoy is the last hurrah of the season.

But the lovers of autumn rejoice in that riotous color of fall, as well as in the harvest of bounty that is the result of a promising spring and a full, rich summer. Autumn literally abounds with bounty — fruit and vegetables and flowers; animals that have feasted through the season and are as fat as they will be for the year; gardeners marveling at the result of months of hard work. Autumn is a reminder that time, and hard work, pay off — not with the cold, hard cash that modern society sees as the only thing worth working for, but with God’s own provision.September is a floral and fruit still life that celebrates this feeling of abundance and beauty. A jumbled bundle of Black-Eyed Susans dance around Coneflowers and Zinnias, with a basket of pears standing in an orderly, yet disorderly array, beneath. Not to be forgotten, the apple — the traditional fruit of fall — makes its appearance.

Clear green glass allows us a peek at the green stems of the flowers, a reminder that flowers are not just the blossom, but the whole entity. This is a bouquet that a child would pick — full, complete, with the focus not on sophistication and the blending of colors to match the room decor, but on joy, celebration, and the music of the season.

Half empty? or Half full? How about neither: Autumn is a time of complete and total beauty, joy, and abundance.

September is an original oil painting, 18 x 18 on panel. With the gold-colored frame, included with purchase, it is 24 x 24.

Read the rest, including Steve’s work now on Houzz, the phenomenal interior decorating and renovation site, at Start Your Week with Steve.

See all of Steve’s original and licensed works at Steve Henderson Fine Art. Steve’s work is also available at stores.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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Who Rules Our Lives — God, or Church?

Politics, like economics, history, and world news, tend to bore a lot of people, resulting in too few people taking an active and regular interest in what is going on around them.

magental inspirational original oil painting of flamenco dancer by Steve Henderson

Our worship, loyalty, submission, love, and obedience belong, ultimately, to God alone. There is no other to whom we pledge our full allegiance. Magenta, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

The problem is less that the subjects are boring (they’re not!) but they’re made to seem that way, so complicated that the average idiot (that’s you and me) cannot possibly understand the ramifications of the issues at hand and therefore would be better off with something more palatable and at our level, like Paris Hilton’s latest shopping exhibition. (A recent Daily Mail breathlessly reports that she carried THREE cell phones at the same time that she balanced her shopping bag. No wonder we focus so much of our energy on pop culture.)

It doesn’t take much study of politics to grasp the fact that there is no one, perfect man-made system of governing other human beings, and the one we all point to as next to godhead, democracy, doesn’t exist other than on paper, as a great theory.

(In a true democracy, every man and woman’s vote is a voice, and that voice is heeded, but in the system under which I live in the U.S., which calls itself a “republic” [it isn’t that, either], a very few rule the lives of a very many, and anybody who writes their congressional representative [who is usually a lawyer, as opposed to an ordinary person who works at a retail store, say, or a plumber, or an artist] counts themselves heard when they receive back a generic e-mail saying that their comment has been received and docketed, and the Solon will take great pains to meet the needs and desires of his constituents.

Do you believe that? I don’t.)

And while this sounds cynical, this is the nature of man-made government, which in today’s world is primarily consistent of oligarchy (the rule of many by a few), a situation that Jesus accurately described to his disciples in Matthew 20:25-28:

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Well, what about it? While high officials exert authority over ordinary people in every man-made nation and kingdom on the planet, does this situation occur in the place where it is not supposed to be — God’s church?

When one defines church as a place, a building, an establishment, a denomination, an organized group, Jesus’s description of the rulers of the Gentiles looks remarkably apt: we have elder boards, and leadership teams, and worship consultants, and pastoral associates, and denominational doctrines, and world councils of churches purporting to speak for all believers, issuing decrees and establishing rules for how members (not fellow brethren) are to behave and believe and perform.

But when we define the church as the body of believers — individuals who work together to form one, under the headship of Christ — then the only person whose voice counts is our Father in heaven, God. And His is the ultimate voice in every believer’s life as to how one should act, believe, pray, and be: when His voice counteracts that of “correct church doctrine,” whatever that is, which do we follow?

Because, make no mistake, the two do not always agree.

To read more on this subject, please follow the link to You Don’t Belong to Any Church: You Belong to God at my blog, Commonsense Christianity, BeliefNet.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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Lessons from a Demented Cat: God’s Love

The great thing about having children is that, even when they leave home, they never really do, especially if they live in an apartment that doesn’t allow animals, and they insist upon getting a cat.

Such is the saga at our home these days, and the cat — which is psychotic because it’s a rescue kitty — is a temporary member of our household, until her new owner moves into an apartment that allows cats.

She's cute but she's nuts, because she's afraid all the time of the people who only want to help her. Psycho Kitty, photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

She’s cute but she’s nuts, because she’s afraid all the time of the people who only want to help her. Psycho Kitty, photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

(This is a good time to point out that the cat’s owner is not looking for moving boxes right now, as she apparently has no immediate intention of relocating.)

So we’ve got this cat, and when she isn’t being psychotic — scuttling under furniture and hiding there because she’s afraid — she’s a fabulous lap kitty, because she loves being loved and adored and cuddled and held.

But the problem is, when we’re not holding and cuddling and cooing at her, and if we leave the room for 15 seconds or so, she uses the opportunity to scuttle out of our reach, because despite her love of being loved, she’s not convinced, somehow, that this is what will happen to her.

The parallel to the experience of many Christians is striking:

We all want to be loved, and indeed, that’s the reason that many of us (those who weren’t brought to the faith by the hellfire and damnation message) embraced Christianity, because at one point we were told,

“God is love. He loves you deeply and dearly, and He has a purpose for your life.”

Sounds like a great concept to me, which is why I accepted it so many years ago, but then a funny thing happened on my way to growth in Christ: I got plugged into a system in which I was instructed how to worship, what to read, how to think, and what to say, and because it was so well and subtly done (Protestants don’t have overt rules, but they do have rules), I found myself, years later, little advanced in my thinking about God, and indeed, a bit regressed:

I had embraced Christianity initially because it promised a God of love and acceptance and compassion, someone very different from the God I had been raised to see. But I never pursued that God of love, so busy was I with dodging the rules — attend church, tithe, go to Sunday School, be part of the Saturday work party, get up early for Quiet Time. Even though I never played the game, because I was surrounded by so many team players who did, I always had the feeling that the problem lay with me, somehow, and if only I could submit more to group think (always a bad idea, you know), I would fit in.

Thank God, quite literally, that I never did manage to fit in, and when He called me out to walk independently with Him, I had less to unlearn.

And what we have to unlearn is this false teaching: that God is a God of rules, more concerned that we “have correct doctrine” than that we seek — passionately and persistently — the love that drew us to Him in the first place.

We don’t have to be like Psycho Kitty — longing for love but running away because we’re afraid of our Father in heaven. He loves us as children, not slaves, and the more we grow to understand this, the more we walk about in His household with confidence, not fear.

Are you afraid of God? Do you think, deep down, that He’s playing with you, or ignoring you, or doesn’t really like, or love, you at all? If so, you’re one of many — even and especially among Christians — and I encourage you to follow the link to Psychotic Cats and God’s Love at Commonsense Christianity, BeliefNet.

The Misfit Christian Book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Live Happily on Less book by Carolyn Henderson at amazon.com Grammar Despair paperback and digital book at Amazon.com by Carolyn Henderson Step by Step Watercolor Success digital DVD workshop by Steve Henderson at Amazon.com

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