Other Humans Are Not Our Servants

It is a universal truth that people who like the Jane Austen book, Pride and Prejudice, frequently go beyond mere “like” to excessive admiration. One of my own daughters is just such a fan, revisiting the story in book, movie, or mini-series form on a regular basis.

Afternoon Tea inspirational original oil painting of mother and child at tea party in meadow by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, amazon.com, art.com, and allposters

How we treat others who are more vulnerable than we — especially when others are not watching — says more about who we are than any job title we hold. Afternoon Tea , original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at art.com, amazon, allposters, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art

“Life was so much better in those days,” she says with a sigh during those moments when modern life seems especially dislikable.

“Only if you were born to the right station in life,” I reply. “And even then, you still had to use chamber pots. Which, I suppose, is better than being the person who had to empty them.”

Because, you know, in any society, no matter how free, there is the person who empties the chamber pots. While today with modern plumbing this particular task is no longer so necessary, there is never a dearth of jobs that nobody wants to do. But there are many such jobs that need to be done.

My parents were of the generation that said, “An honest job, done well, is nothing to be ashamed of. Putting food on the table for one’s family is the most honorable thing that can be done.”

It’s a good attitude, one that is worth having whenever any of us finds ourselves in a position, literally, of humility, vulnerability, and social censure simply because of the job title we hold. In a society that defines ourselves, and our worth, by the work we do to earn money so that we can eat, it is easy to judge our worth, as humans, by man’s standards:

Are we a doctor, a lawyer, a politician, a university professor, an expert of some sort?

These are good things, we are taught, and anyone who does them is successful, regardless of the content, if any, of their character.

But as Christians, our world view is not shaped by the doctrines of men, and the apostle James says in the book that bears his name,

“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.

“If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or “Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (2:1, 3)

It’s a pertinent question, and one many of us would automatically answer,

“Of course I treat all my brothers and sisters in Christ with respect!”

But the proof of how true our answer is lies in how we truly do treat others, and one of the best evidences of this is at the grocery store, when we are purchasing our groceries.

“Hello, how are you?” the grocery clerk greeted the woman behind me as I was picking up my bags and heading on my way.

The woman looked at her, looked away, and didn’t answer.

Now while it may be that she had hearing problems and didn’t hear the question, the issue of customers not greeting back the clerks who sell them their groceries is not an unusual one, something I know from personal experience, as well as the experience of those who are presently behind the retail lines.

“People talk on phones, they talk to each other, or they simply say nothing at all,” one person in the front lines, behind the register, told me. “Some people are very nice, but a disturbing number act rudely, as if we were their servants or something.”

“You, stand there,” or “Sit on the floor by my feet.”

An attitude of entitlement, at the expense of other human beings, or looking over someone’s head as if they didn’t exist, is not the attitude toward which we, as believers, have been called, and while I would like to believe that no Christian treats another human being, ever, like a lesser creature, I know this isn’t true.

We are not perfect. We all have bad days, and on some of them, unfortunately, we are not at our friendliest in public. But when it is an attitude of mind, a belief that the people who serve us, in public, are by some extension our actual servants and are thereby treated as such, then we are definitely acting at variance with the teachings of Christ, who tells us,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

“I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:15-17)

Our Master, our Eldest Brother, set us an example of humility, meekness, and respect toward other human beings. As servants of Him, and more importantly as younger brothers and sisters in the household of His and our Father, we can do no better than to follow this example.

To read more on this subject, please follow the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Do We Treat Fellow Christians Like Servants?

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

What Brave Looks Like

We live in a world that worships movies.

And while many Christians would swear up and down that they worship nothing but God and have no idols, honest people stop and admit that popular mass media affects, generally in a non-positive way, how we see our lives and interpret ourselves.

Grace inspirational original oil painting of dancing woman in pink dress on ocean beach by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.com

She doesn’t look like a warrior, does she? But most of life’s battles don’t happen where we think they do, and those who fight with grace, trust, hope, and faith, make it to the end. Grace, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Amazon.

Three hundred years ago, people riding a horse across a meadow didn’t hear a soundtrack in their head.

Today, given the right mood and song on the radio, many of us driving to the grocery store for milk find ourselves, mentally, doing something else, something far grander and more adventurous than driving to the grocery store for milk.

And while a little daydreaming is harmless enough, when our thoughts revolve around an imaginary life and an imaginary world promoted and pushed by an entertainment industry that isn’t satisfied with our money, but wants to shape our world view as well, then a little daydreaming can turn into a lot of dissatisfaction with our actual, real life.

We want to be brave, we want to be adventurous, we want to be bold — we want to live a life with meaning and direction, and if we don’t watch ourselves, we fall into the trap of looking to the imaginary world of movies as the place to find this.

But the place to find meaning in our life is with the Creator of that life, and while that sounds remarkably trite and oh-so-Christian, it’s quite sensible, actually, far more sensible than defining ourselves by characters in a film, or worse yet, by the actors who pretend to be people they’re not when they play characters in a film.

“Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand,” Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:13.

The imagery of this is very Middle-Earth-like, resembling the characters and story line of The Lord of the Rings series, and those of us who enjoy the movie (and yes, I loved, and still love, the books, first) are inspired and encouraged by the mighty acts of valor, performed within a stirring soundtrack and stunning cinematic detail, that even the smallest of Hobbits put forth in this film.

But it is easy to forget, from our position on the couch, that life, real life, doesn’t generally look this way, and even if it did, the ratio of exhilarating adventure on a physical battlefield to the ordinary tasks of life is small. Most of our lives are spent doing the ordinary things it takes to live that life — driving to work, doing whatever it is we do for work, preparing meals, washing dishes, emptying the garbage, swishing toilets.

These mundane, necessary jobs are not the stuff of epic movies (which is why we don’t see them happening in movies, unless the character is trying to show us what a regular, ordinary guy he is), but they are the stuff of life, and the bravest people are those who look least like characters in movies (or “reality” TV shows): the bravest people are those who roll out of bed to go to a job they abhor because they have people in the family to feed, who deal with chronic illness or pain and insist that it will not define who they are, who care for a loved one who will never get better and who other people are embarrassed to be seen with in public, who walk tall into a room where others have just been gossiping about them, who deny themselves a small treat because this month’s finances just won’t stretch that far and someone else needs new socks.

Bravery does not exclusively involve war scenes and military uniforms — indeed, most of the time it does not. Bravery involves getting up when we are knocked down, and continuing to walk.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality,” Paul exhorts in Romans 12:13-16.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.

“Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.”

These are acts of bravery, but not the kind exalted in movies, and most of the time, they are not seen, or recognized, by crowds of adoring people. Our Father, however, who is in secret, sees our pain and struggling and determination and effort, and He walks with us as we walk. With Him at our side and in our hearts, we are brave.

To read more on this subject, please follow the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Are You a Brave Christian?

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

Dear God: Why Is Nothing Happening?

It’s not peculiar that we humans are reassured by knowing that we’re not the only ones going through something. The Internet — a truly free Internet in which we are, quite literally, free to express ourselves without fear of governmental or humanly authoritative repercussions — has done much in recent years to encourage people who otherwise have thought that they were weird.

Purple Iris inspirational original watercolor of flower by steve henderson, licensed prints at framed canvas art

Growth is not something that happens quickly, and though nothing seems to be happening, the seed germinates, the plant bursts through, the flower blooms. Purple Iris, original watercolor by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art.

We’re not — other people have questions, doubts, misgivings, and concerns about all sorts of other things — our government, our educational institutions, our medical establishment, our judicial system,  our coldly calculating corporate society, and, certainly not least, our religious arena. (Regarding the latter, it is because people are able to readily and ably connect with others who propound similar questions that we are seeing a distinct exodus from the systematized, syndicated church establishment. Many of the people leaving are committed Christians who are waking up, realizing that the dissatisfaction they are feeling is not necessarily because they are difficult, obstreperous, and spiritually cold.)

Within our walk as Christians, it is easy to get the sense that we are alone in our problems, and when deep, aching prayers appear to go unanswered and unheard, we blame ourselves because, well, those around us do:

“You don’t have enough faith,” is the frequent observation, so tiresomely predictable that we should make T-shirts out of it and pass them out to all the Christians in our lives.

“We’re not honest with ourselves,” would be a better slogan, not one to further castigate us for our lack of perfection, but to free us from the misconception that good, successful Christians never cry out, never get frustrated, never despair, and always get what they ask for from God because He is pleased with them. Such is the foundation upon which the Prosperity Doctrine is built, but the worship of money, and power, seeps into all our lives, and even when we think we’re not pursuing a lie, we spend a lot of time focusing on it.

“You hem me in — behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me,” the Psalmist says in 139:5. This is not a declaration or claim or announcement of mighty faith as it is an observation — quite realistically born out of frustration — that the writer’s movements are severely circumscribed. If we put it into the common tongue — “God. Nothing is happening. I’m not going anywhere” — we would immediately be admonished,

“That’s negative speaking. If you talk that way, how can you expect God to answer your prayers?”

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, listen to my cry for help: be not deaf to my weeping,” Psalm 39:12 says, with the implication that the prayer has been uttered more than once, and the person praying it feels that it has not been heard. “Why, O Lord, do you reject me and hide your face from me?” Psalm 88:14 is candidly direct.

Isaiah 38:11-14 gives a series of visual images – “No longer will I look on mankind or be with those who now dwell in this world . . Like a weaver I have rolled up my life and he has cut me off from the loom . . . day and night you made an end of me” – that can, and should encourage us that even those whom we think the most godly experience discouragement, and a loss of confidence in the only Person who can help them.

And what about the great prophet Elijah, who in 1 Kings 19 is so overwhelmed by the threats of Jezebel and the evil of the Israelite community, that he prayed,

“I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

None of this is positive talk, and therefore, by 21st century establishment Christianity standards, should not be expressed — and it frequently isn’t because we’re smart enough to read a room, not requiring much time with the group before we figure out that this kind of talk makes others uncomfortable. Honesty generally does.

And honesty is what God wants from His children. It is what is expressed in the Psalms, it is brutally exposed in the very history recorded in the Bible — even the Greats, the ones whose names we know, experienced fear, doubt, anxiety, worry, discomfiture and dismay.

The exhibition of these very human emotions did not result in God throwing up His hands in frustration and storming out of the room, and He will not do so with us, His children who are free to come to Him in all honesty, vulnerability, and need. We are not alone in our frustration, doubt, impatience, anxiety, and urgent desire that God do something, NOW, and we do not need to let the fear of this stop us from going, with confidence, to the Only Person who can take all that garbage, toss it to the side, and help us.

To read more on this subject, please follow the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Is God Keeping You on a Short Leash?

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

Breathing the Same Air as God

In our latter days of church attendance, we encountered the Michael W. Smith song, “Breathe,” in which the lyrics state,

“This is the air I breathe.

“This is the air I breathe.

“Your holy presence living in me.”

The Land of Chief Joseph inspirational original oil painting of Wallowa mountain meadow in Oregon by Steve Henderson.

When we think of where God is, we often think of the cosmos, or the mountains, because these are majestic places. But one of the places where He is, is within us, His holy spirit dwelling with our soul. The Land of Chief Joseph, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

The chorus says,

“And I am desperate for you.

“And I am lost without you.”

The words, set to a haunting melody, impacted me, and in the time subsequent I have often stopped to observe my breathing, with each respiration thinking, “You and I, Father, are sharing the same breath. And I only take that breath because you give it to me.”

In Genesis 2:7 we are told,

“The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”

Now I have read this verse many times, generally in conjunction with the children’s AWANA program, when my central focus was to get some very young child to the point that he or she could repeat it, verbatim, without snickering over the word, “nostrils.”

I no longer care about this issue, and this last week when I encountered the verse I tried to read it as if it were for the first time, as opposed to the 63rd or 87th, and understand what it was saying:

Our very breath comes from God.

Inhale. And Exhale. And repeat. I don’t know how many times we breathe in a day or a month or a lifetime, but I do know that, not only do we do so most of the time without any conscious thought, but even when we do think about taking a breath, we can’t create it on our own. It is given to us, as a gift, from God, the giver of all life.

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me,” Psalm 139 tells us.

“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

“You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

“Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”

Now when men focus upon our private lives — with their cameras, their hidden microphones, their software programs, their government agencies — it’s creepy. But when it comes to God, in whom there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), there is comfort in knowing that the creator of all things — me, and you, the sparrows that fall to the ground and the people we love — is aware, and cares about, our hurts, anxieties, joys, fears, hopes, dreams, and deep, deep, aching desires.

He is not off, preoccupied, in some distant quarter, unaware of us or incapable of keeping track of us amidst all the other people He has made. He is close — so close that we share the same breath — and our life is intertwined with Him, so intertwined that our very next breath is in His hands.

Please read more on this subject at my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Without God, We’ve Got Ten Minutes, Tops.

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

Celebrate the Little Things of Life — The Evening Ahead

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

There is a pleasurable sense of anticipation when we are preparing for a special evening or notable event. And the beauty of it all is that the event does not have to be gigantic, or momentous, to instill a sense of well being and joy.

The Evening Ahead inspirational original oil painting of fashionable vogue woman dressing her hair by Steve Henderson

Part of the pleasure of any outing is the anticipation and preparation beforehand. The Evening Ahead, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Indeed, because it is often the smallest things that bring the greatest impact, there is potential for great joy, given that life is full of many small things. We don’t have to wait to win the lottery to be happy; we simply plan an outing — whether it’s a picnic on the back porch or a chef’s table at a fine restaurant — and think gentle thoughts upon it as we prepare.

So it is in the painting, The Evening Ahead, fresh off the easel. Celebrating the simple joys of life, The Evening Ahead joins a beautiful woman in her boudoir (do we still use that term? It’s a grand way of thinking about the rooms in our house) as she prepares for a night on the town. She is relaxed and at peace, concentrating upon the sweep of her hair.

In the background, a mirror reflects a gauzy image back at the woman, a a figurative reflection of her soft, calm thoughts.

Soft, calm thoughts. These are good things to have, and any circumstance that promotes them is worth seeking and encouraging.

The Evening Ahead is an original oil painting on panel, 24 x 18. With the gold frame included with its purchase, it has a finished wall hanging size of 30 x 24.

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

The Christian Revival You’re Waiting For? It’s Happening

My Norwegian Artist husband was raised in a small church attached to a big denomination, and throughout his childhood he heard about the promised Revival, with a capital R, of God:

It was always about to happen, just on the verge of exploding. But for some reason, unless a big-name evangelist deigned to appear in a nearby large town’s football stadium, it just didn’t manifest itself.

Ocean Breeze inspirational original oil painting of woman at beach during sunset by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at icanvas, framed canvas art, great big canvas, amazon.com, art.com, and allposters.com

Liberation, acceptance, freedom, love — that’s what humans are seeking, and we will go where we can find it. Ocean Breeze, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, AllPosters, Art. com, Amazon, and Great Big Canvas.

Perhaps the saints weren’t praying hard enough. Or God just wasn’t ready yet. Whatever it was, the Revival was always something in the future.

Whatever a Revival is, however, we are in the midst something that looks like one now — an extremely quiet, persistent movement that mimics a leak in a water tank, drawing liquid away from the container and into the earth. And while this isn’t a good thing for the person owning the container, it does wonders for the parched ground receiving the moisture.

The Revival that we are experiencing today involves the leaving, one by one and family by family, of people from the conventional weekly church establishment. Too many people are simply leaving, disappointed and discouraged by the increasingly corporate nature of what calls itself the body of Christ, but convinced that this is, at base, what Christianity is.

“God, and Christianity, are not the answer,” they conclude.

But others, and I and my family are among them, have left to find God. Totally done with trying to fit in, wondering if there is more to the Christian experience than becoming the Deaconess of Baby Showers or the Deacon of Weekly Lawn Maintenance, we are exasperated at being labeled “difficult” for asking questions, “cold” because we are bored by Sunday School, “not an intentional member of the community” (is that in the Bible?) because went to the park with our family last Saturday, as opposed to participating in Church Work Day.

For whatever reason, and each person’s experience is different, more and more people are departing, which is why those who are left behind are exhorted, strongly, to stay there.

But weekly church service is not a commandment, “corporate worship” not a requirement to achieve closeness with God. And as important as “correct church doctrine” is trumpeted to be vital to maintain a healthy Christian community, one would have to ask, “So which doctrine is correct? Must we speak in tongues to prove that we have the Holy Spirit, or not? If we are not baptized, do we go to hell? Is it true that those who worship on Sunday violate God’s law, and isn’t the whole point of Jesus that we aren’t bound by that law anymore? So why are there so many rules?

“And will God really reject us if our neckline plunge is too steep, and too low?”

If “correct church doctrine” is in danger of being contravened by those who leave the conventional church environment, it would be nice if those concerned about its demise put forth a succinct and unified list of these appropriate beliefs so the rest of us would know when we are breaking them.

Better yet, let’s forgo that — it sounds too much like a one-world, global religion, and those of us who are ordinary know how well the globalized economy works for regular people. A One World Order mandating how we believe isn’t a particularly good, and certainly not God-ordained, idea.

People are leaving, people. It is not so much a reflection upon their belief in God as it is evidence that they have this belief, and they are not finding it strengthened, encouraged, nourished, and cultivated in the settings that they are abandoning.

While it’s easy to point to a Leaver and say, “That person has no heart for God; otherwise he would be here looking for him,” very few people, especially in leadership, actually ask former weekly church attenders why they left. The truth isn’t particularly complimentary to the status quo.

“Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you,” God says in Jeremiah 29:12-13.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

That’s what people are doing. Some of them do it within what we call a church setting, and they thrive there. Others, however,  balk at what they consider a system, and insist that they didn’t follow Jesus to then be required to second guess, and follow, a list of rules — rules that vary depending upon the church body, the denomination, and whoever happens to be leading their particular group.

These are the people who are leaving. They are not weak, they are not backslidden, they are not apostates, they are not quarrelsome dissenters dissatisfied because they can’t find the perfect church — believe me, they know that such a thing doesn’t exist.

They are seekers — asking, seeking, knocking, walking, insistent upon finding the God of love and acceptance that they are told, repeatedly, exists and wants to have a relationship with them. And they’ll go where they can find Him.

Please read more on this subject at my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, The Christians Who Choose to Leave Church.

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


The Perfect Will of God

The Perfect Will of God — have you heard of it?

While the Bible mentions God’s will, and that it’s perfect, the 21st century establishment definition of The Perfect Will of God really isn’t in the Bible, although many of us act as if it were so.

The Traveler inspirational charcoal drawing of vintage nostalgia woman in paris france by the Eiffel Tower by Steve Henderson

“Which way should we go?” is a question we ask ourselves all the time, but reading the guidebook helps. The Traveler, charcoal drawing by Steve Henderson.

In short, our misguided reasoning looks like this:

God has a perfect, individualized plan for our lives, and achieving it depends upon us. If we do not listen to His voice, perfectly (have you heard His voice, audibly, lately, giving you step-by-step instructions for your day? Me neither), then we will make wrong choices, thereby causing us to MISS the perfect will of God and muddle through some lesser form of what our life could have been.

Gosh, that sounds hopeful.

Through the years, I have watched good, godly people torment themselves in prayer over a decision — sometimes it’s a very small one — and essentially freeze in place because they’re so afraid of making the wrong choice.

“What does God want me to do?” they agonize. “And why won’t He tell me?”

“Why don’t you just choose the option that seems right to you?” I asked a woman once. “Neither option is a wrong one, neither one involves any form of moral compromise — which one do you want to do?”

“But it has nothing to do with my wanting anything!” she wailed. “It’s what God wants.”

But what God wants, and what He works toward creating, are grown-up children in the house of our Father, and as long as we remain as very little ones, never sure of our position, never putting to practical application the lessons that He has taught us, then we remain immature.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go,” we are told in Psalm 32:8-9, “I will counsel you and watch over you.

“Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”

God, in His grace, mercy, and love, works closely with His children, teaching us at our particular grade level, and then watches over us as we take faltering steps forward, then walk more firmly, and then run. Because we are not horses, we do not run away from Him, but run with Him at our side, guiding and encouraging us.

To give credit to horses, the smart ones stay close to their human master, having learned to trust him or her as their leader, and a perfectly matched pair — horse and rider — is a beautiful synergistic duo, each with a part to play.

And while it is true that God never messes up on His part but we do on ours, this does not mean that we do not take the part that He has given us — to live our life, review our choices, bring them to Him in prayer, and make a decision based upon what looks wisest and best to us, in light of what we know about God’s way of doing things.

To read more about this subject, please follow the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Are We Making Asses of Ourselves?

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


Hello, Good-bye, and “Jesus Loves You!”

I don’t know how you answer the phone, but generally I say, “Hello,” or “Good Morning (Afternoon, Evening).” Sometimes, when I do the Good Afternoon routine there’s a pause at the other end until someone timidly asks,

“Is this a business?”

Midday Tea, inspirational original oil painting of nostalgia 1930s woman in victorian dining room by Steve Henderson

Greetings and salutations are important, and they set the tone for the subsequent conversation. Midday Tea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

But most of the time, people respond favorably, and then say “Hello,” or “Good Morning” back, and we move on with the conversation.

So I was a discountenanced recently when I called someone and they answered, “God Bless You!”

Honestly, I hadn’t sneezed. And I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed — do I say, “Um, Well God Bless You to You Too!” or would “Hello” do? The latter seems lame, somehow, but it’s pretty much the default that came to me after a pause on my part long enough to become embarrassing.

In another conversation, with another person, and in person, the interaction ended with, not “See you later,” or, “Good-bye,” but my favorite phrase to NOT be used as a greeting or departure, “Jesus LOVES You!”

This one always flummoxes me. I mean, as a Christian, I KNOW that Jesus loves me, and when people toss it off as a salutation or valediction, I never know whether they are informing me of the fact — convinced that I don’t know it — or reminding me, because I’ve forgotten somehow — or trying to convert me, because I come across as a heathen — or not caring at all what my spiritual state is because what matters is to get the name of Jesus in there somehow, regardless of what the listener thinks. If I didn’t know Jesus, and indeed, if my experience with Him through the people who profess Him were not especially positive, how would “Jesus Loves You!” come across?

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the apostle Paul talks about how he adjusts his behavior, speech, and words in accordance with the person to whom he is talking — to a Jew he becomes as a Jew, to a person not under the law as a person not under the law, in short, becoming “all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”

An intelligent and knowledgeable man, Paul was also wise, a crucial element that allows us to use whatever intelligence and knowledge we have been given, and he realized that the message of Christ, and God’s love, is so important, that it’s worth thinking about how we give it.

In the same way that it does little good to a Greek to call upon Jewish law, it’s meaningless to an atheist, or an agnostic, to be quoted Scripture. And if our intent and hope is to show God’s love to those people who don’t know or understand it, wouldn’t it be wise to consider how our words and actions impact others, before we say or do them? (And as an aside, when we are interacting with total strangers, automatically assuming that they are not Christian, or that they do not care about God at all, is rather offensive.)

Now of course, we can get paranoid about this, and we do, in our culture (it’s called political correctness), parsing words to such a point that we say nothing because we’re so afraid of offending. So it doesn’t mean that we eliminate the words “God,” “Jesus,” and “The Lord,” from our vocabulary, but it does mean that we 1) don’t used them in the place of punctuation, and 2) are not obligated to insert them in an unnatural fashion in our speech (“Praise JESUS that these socks are on sale!”)

The message is crucial, and it’s a good one: Jesus DOES love us, but many people have heard the words so often, words not sufficiently backed by action to be believable, that the sentence becomes meaningless.

Not a good thing.

To read more on this subject, please click the link to my Commonsense Christianity article at BeliefNet, Please, Think Twice about Passing out the Bible Tract.

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

Desperately Trying to Fit in

I spent far too much time, as a child, desperately trying to fit in.

It’s understandable, given that our school system — like our corporate office culture — is designed to homogenize people, reducing everyone’s individuality to a standardization of “average” that really approaches mediocre. Basically, we want people to just be quiet and do what they’re told, and some of the best enforcers of this mandate are our peers, which is why we are all intimately acquainted with the term, “peer pressure.”

Lady in Waiting inspirational original oil painting of woman by lilac sea and Victorian home by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at amazon.com, icanvas, and framed canvas art

We all undergo a time of waiting for somebody to join us; it’s worth making sure that the Somebody we’re waiting for is worth that wait. Lady in Waiting, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, icanvas, and framed canvas art

Naively, I thought that once I grew up everything would be different — but how could it be? When we are trained from toddlerhood to conform, at what point will we break away from this culture and finally follow the narrow, individual path set before each one of us? It’s so much easier, and far more accepted, to stay on the wide road with everyone else — keeping up so that we are not ridiculed for being behind, but not so far ahead that we are labeled “overachievers.”

When I discovered Christianity and slotted myself into a church, I thought, “NOW I will find complete acceptance,” but as many of you have learned as well, too many Christian groups are just that — groups — and the same issues that plague lonely children on the playground affect them as adults, in the pews.

This is why I love the words uttered by Ruth, the Moabitess, to her mother-in-law, Naomi, when the latter decides to return to her homeland, Bethlehem in Judah, after the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons, one of whom was Ruth’s husband.

Naomi, knowing that Ruth as a foreigner, outsider, and Moabitess to boot, will not be remotely welcomed in the land of Israel, urges her to stay in her own country, among her own people and within her own culture, where she will find as much acceptance as humans generally do find among one another. (As a side note, it would be interesting to know how well accepted Naomi had felt in Moab . . . I am reminded of many statements I have heard and read along the lines of, “I felt more welcome around ‘sinners’ than I did at church.”)

But Ruth answers:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Ruth’s words, while they are brave, noble, and loyal, are backed not by the virtue of Ruth, but by the love of Naomi. It was because of Naomi’s love for her that Ruth made this overture, and that love must have been great indeed when it superseded the pull of Ruth’s own culture: consider this — she felt more comfortable in a setting where she was considered an outsider than she did in the country where she belonged.

It was Naomi’s love, her unconditional acceptance of her daughter-in-law, that drew Ruth forward, and this love was so strong that it supported Ruth through the ramifications of this decision.

From this, we can draw two important thoughts:

1) Naomi is an example to us of what it looks like to accept other people, regardless of their culture, the way they dress, the manner in which they dress, their lifestyle. Naomi saw Ruth not as a Moabitess, but as her daughter,


2) Naomi is a shadowy image of the real thing, Christ Himself, whose unconditional love for us, His children, enables us to live within a school system, an office, a workplace, a church, where we do not feel this acceptance because somehow, in some uncomfortable way, we’re just too “different.”

We’re all different, you know. That’s how He made us. And He loves us, each of His precious, beautiful creations — all foreigners, but all welcome in His household.

Please read more about this topic of fitting in, or not fitting in, at my Commonsense Christianity post at BeliefNet, “Foreigners” Are God’s Children, Too.

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


Christians: We Are Family, Not Employees

Once a month or so I pass by this church with a dreadful LED sign:


it blares in red,



Light in the Forest inspirational original oil painting of two women with candles in Celtic wood by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at iCanvas, amazon.com, and Framed Canvas Art

Christianity is a relationship between human beings, and between children and our heavenly Father; so why do we talk like businessmen? Light in the Forest, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, and Amazon.


For some reason, I’m never tempted. I feel as if I am being sold something, somehow, which isn’t surprising since signs like this often have messages like,



And while the LED sign is no doubt an improvement over something with Pepsi or Coca Cola on it, it is still a disturbing reminder that this is the modern world we live in, and this is what it looks like.

“We need to be part of this world,” I remember hearing in the days we attended church.

“When families come in and they don’t see the latest technology, they’ll leave, so we as Christians have to be on top of it all.”

Actually, in our days of attending church, the first thing we noticed upon entering a new congregation was whether or not we felt welcomed — and not just the initial greeting at the door when the bulletin was thrust into our hand, but from beginning to end.

We watched the people to see how, or if, they interacted with one another, and the more informal and relaxed the atmosphere, the better we liked it. We were looking for a church family, after all, not a corporate environment.

As time went on, however, the corporate environment, and the concern that the church run smoothly, efficiently, and more like a business, became more prominent, until the day came that we realized it was enough to work in an office and be treated like an unimportant employee five days a week, and we didn’t need an extra day added, on Sunday, to remind us how we were controlled, instructed, circumscribed, managed, and asked to do extra work, for the “family,” or the “community,” or the “team.”

The church — the true one that Christ is the bridegroom of — is supposed to look, and act, different from the world around it, but when the church — the one run by men and denominations and councils and religious celebrities and the mass media Christian sub-culture — looks and sounds like a business, then we have to ask ourselves what Christianity is coming to these days.

What is the real thing, and what is the cultural, corporate substitute?

Please read more on this subject at my Commonsense Christianity, BeliefNet article, Contemporary Corporate Christianity.

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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