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Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

No Fear — Experience Christ’s True Love

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Jesus is love.”

How often do we hear this? If we’re around Christians, or within Christian circles, then we’ve probably heard it a lot. At the same time, however, it wouldn’t be unusual if we were confused, because, though people talk about Jesus, and His love for us, from the moment we grab a bulletin at the church door, actually living as if we believed it were true is a different matter.

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of little girl reading with woman on ocean beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

“There is no fear in love” — it’s worth repeating until we truly believe it. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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Do YOU know anyone who worships and follows Jesus as if they really, really believed He loved them unconditionally, all the time, and without condemnation, disapprobation, and disapproval?

“Love cannot live with fear.”

What a great statement, although it’s not a Bible verse; rather, it’s a line from P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, a modern-day mystery that follows the life of Elizabeth (nee Bennet) and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame.

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While it’s such a good line that Jane could have written it herself, you’ll be happy to know that someone else who writes about love, the apostle John, penned the sentiment much, much earlier than either James or Austen:

“There is no fear in love,” 1 John 4:18 reassures us, continuing,

“But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

What Is God Really Thinking?

Disappointment, disapprobation, disapproval, exasperation, irritation, impatience: none of these emotions have anything to do with perfect love, and yet, within the minds of too many Christians, they are the very embodiment of what God feels, whenever He looks at us:

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1) Because we don’t have enough faith.

2) Because we didn’t read the Bible that day.

3) Because we didn’t say “thank you,” first during our Quiet Time Prayer Time.

4) Because we didn’t have a Quiet Time Prayer Time that day.

5) Because we skipped church.

6) Because we had an uncharitable thought about someone else.

7) Because we did something, anything, that human beings do every minute in the process of just breathing, and we weren’t perfect.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” one Christian quotes Matthew 5:48 to another, theoretically to encourage, but given that none of us is perfect, or can be, while we live on this earth, all this advisement does is remind us of how we have failed, yet again.

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So why did Jesus say it?

Considering that the sentence concludes an entire chapter (Matthew 5) beginning with the Beatitudes and progressing through a series of statements about fulfilling the law; not committing murder, adultery, or divorce; and loving our enemies, one can pretty much conclude that being perfect is

1) Something to shoot for

and

2) Something we’re not necessarily going to hit.

Perfect Love Is . . . Perfect

And that’s why we focus on that perfect love — the love that DOESN’T have to do with punishment, punishment being something that we do not experience, or expect to experience, within the love of Christ, because as the apostle Paul reassures us in Romans 8:1,

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Evening Waltz inspirational original oil painting of couple dancing on beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Vision Art Galleries

In a perfect relationship, each partner trusts, loves, and delights in one another. We can do that with God — because He does it with us, first. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art and Vision Art Galleries.

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“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Yes, I know, Revelation 3:19 tells us,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline,” but it’s wise to remember that because our heavenly Father is just that — heavenly, perfect, all wise, all good, and compassionate — it’s a sure bet that He’ll do a better job raising His children than we do ours, and really good human parents don’t give the impression to their children that they (the children) are hopelessly incompetent, irretrievably unsatisfactory, abominably imperfect, and distressingly defective.

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Wise, mature parents recognize that children will have issues, and perverse is the mother who knocks down the baby and tells him to walk all over again, from the sofa, because he’s not steady enough.

Or the father who returns the wretchedly hand-sewn pillow, the product of five-year-old fingers, because it doesn’t look like something from Pier One Imports.

God’s Parenting Skills

Awful parents, we agree, create a climate of fear, unease, anxiety, and discouragement by yelling at their kids, withholding affection to bring about desired change, and expecting more than can possibly be given. (One of my favorite examples of perverse leadership was a sports coach who withheld praise to those who finished second, or less, in a heat, convinced that the children would be so desperate to earn her approval that they would try harder — how can one try harder than one’s best? — next time. A wiser person would recognize that eventually, you give up trying to please someone who cannot be pleased.)

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Despite the wisdom of sensible human parenting, however, we as Christians walk fearfully and in chronic trepidation around our heavenly Father, punishing ourselves, mentally, in His name when we don’t meet standards that we have set up: we must be patient, all the time, our words never sharp, our actions never misguided, our faith — this is the big one — never unwavering, or else God will walk away from us, because we deserve no less.

But this has never been God’s way, He who loved us first (1 John 4:16).

In a weekly children’s program years ago, I helped 6-year-olds lisp through 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” and if they didn’t have the slightest idea of what they were saying, neither did their adult teachers:

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God. Loves. Us.

He loved us first. He loves us last. He loves us always.

We cannot alienate Him from us because of our human imperfections, but we can alienate ourselves from feeling secure in His arms by allowing fear to creep into our relationship. His perfect love doesn’t go away — we just don’t realize and recognize that it is there.

“Love cannot live with fear.” — P.D. James.

“There is no fear in love.” the Apostle John.

Let Jesus — and His perfect love — drive out your fear.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am overcoming years of religious miseducation by discovering, daily, who God is, and why He’s worth worshiping and loving.

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Posts complementing this one are

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Child of God: You Are Much Beloved

Isn’t It Enough — Just to Believe?

 

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We Don’t Need Celebrity Christian Permission to Stand up for Ourselves

posted by Carolyn Henderson

I don’t tend to keep up on “Christian News,” because it pretty much looks like the standard misinformation and disinformation that the rest of the media world puts forth, only with the words “Jesus” and “God” thrown in enough to make it spiritually acceptable.

Cadence inspirational original oil painting of woman walking on ocean beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

Walk with confidence in Christ, and let Him be the leader telling you where to go. Cadence, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art and Vision Art Galleries.

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Because I now incorporate a blog at the Christian Post, however, I can’t help but see the headlines, and the latest, most breaking news in the Church and Ministry section announced,

John Piper Says Bullying Pastors Abuse Authority and Should Be Rebuked.

In case you don’t know who John Piper is (I didn’t, until a month or so ago when I was wandering around the Internet looking up disparate things), he is a Calvinistic Baptist preacher who served as Pastor for Preaching and Vision (what an interesting job title) at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis for 33 years.

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He writes lots of books and tends to be quoted in Christian media when he speaks, as he was in this article.

Now the purport of the story is pretty much encapsulated in the headline, and Piper describes bullying pastors as domineering leaders who are bad shepherds who don’t love the flock, and thereby can be “approached” by actual members, male or female and not just approved leadership. That’s a nice concession that one doesn’t normally see.

You’re Not My Dad

My favorite part of the story is this one:

“Piper also acknowledged that not all bullying complaints are legit. Some people, he said, have an over sensitivity to healthy pastoring. ‘Someone might accuse a pastor wrongly of bullying just because they don’t like his tone of voice or he seems to be a little bit more firm than they grew up experiencing by their dad,’ said Piper.”

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I don’t know about you, but as a fully grown adult, of the age now that I could very well be older than many pastors I might encounter, I am appalled by the concept that someone could even dream of inserting himself into my, and my family’s life, like a dad.

Just what, exactly, is “healthy pastoring”? Is it psychological counseling? Marriage advice? Parenting instruction? Lifestyle guidance? Career suggestions? Just how far does shepherding, by a human being others have chosen to put themselves under, go?

Apparently pretty far, if bullying is an issue not immediately resolved by the person being attacked standing up and saying,

“That’s uncalled for, and you have stepped out of line. I expect an apology, now.”

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Worshiping Leadership

Leadership, authority, hierarchy, accountability, and submission are hot topics in Christian, especially evangelical, circles, and while the 21st century interpretation of the paid position of pastor (of Preaching and Vision, or otherwise) isn’t specifically found and described in the Bible, those in positions of church authority like to quote Hebrews 13:17 as a means of keeping the sheep in line:

Madonna and Toddler inspirational original oil painting of mother with child at Hughes House by Steve Henderson licensed prints at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art

Protect, honor, respect, love — why voluntarily submit ourselves to anyone who does anything less? Madonna and Toddler, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at iCanvasART and Framed Canvas Art.

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“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Interestingly, this verb “obey,” cross-referenced in Strong’s Concordance, is in other verses translated as “trust in,” or “have confidence in,” which is a strong distinction from “obey,” and even if one chooses to do the latter, it would be best not to do so until the former two options have been achieved.

Quite frankly, the primary Shepherd in a Christian’s life is Jesus, the only Father we fully submit to is God, and our one, true,  good Shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.

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“The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.” (John 10:11-12)

Good Pastors Look Different from Bad Ones

There are many good pastors out there who study God’s word with a sincere desire to grasp truth from it, and pass it on to their fellow believers — with whom they are equal in the sight of Christ. Many of these men and women work hard and diligently, mirror the humility that Christ showed when He washed His disciples’ feet, and are little rewarded (materially) for their pains.

There are others, however, who do not “enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climb in by some other way.” (John 10:1)

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These are thieves and robbers. “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him and the sheep listen to his voice.”

Before we listen too seriously, too well, and too obediently to another person’s voice, we might want to ask ourselves why we’re doing this, as well as remind ourselves that, in a church situation, choosing to attend any particular congregation is a completely voluntary process, unlike the submission demanded by government, employers, rulers, and kings.

Some Submission is a Choice — Make It Wisely, If at All

Many of these latter are foisted upon us without our consent and desire — and if we get nothing more out of the controversial Romans 13:1-7  (“Everyone must submit himself to the (governing) authorities”), it’s that we give Caesar or our middle manager what he demands, and hope that he lets us alone. We don’t have to fawn all over him.

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And yet this is what we are expected to do within a church hierarchical system, and that there is even an issue of bullying church leadership is a very bad symptom that the sheep are listening to the wrong voices, because, as Piper says in the article, “These bad shepherds may abuse their positions because of an ego trip, a need for control, a love of finacial (sic) gain or a desire to inflict harm on others.”

If the sheep are being wise and discerning, and if we take seriously 1 Peter 2:9:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God,”

we will not put human religious kings over the hearts and minds and spirits and souls that belong, solely, to God.

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Question. Authority.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I consistently and constantly encourage all Christians, regardless of what they do on Sunday morning (or Saturday, if that’s your bent), to read the Bible diligently and often for themselves, and to know what the truth is without needing someone else to interpret it for you.

Posts complementing this one are

Why Ordinary Christians Can — and Should — Speak up

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Christian Leadership and Ordinary People

The Misfit Christian (this is what you will find yourself being when you stand up for yourself, ask questions, and disagree with the general flow of things)

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Questioning Convention: It’s Part of Growth

posted by Carolyn Henderson

One of the problems of formal, prescriptive Bible studies is that, frequently, they mooooooooooove

soooooooooooo

slooooooooooowly

through the Scriptures, focusing on one or two verses at a time and haranguing the poor words until they collapse, exhausted, and pant out,

Bible with magnifying glass

There’s a fine line between examining Scripture for truth, and parsing it into itty bitty parts. We want to do the first, without being trapped by the second. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.

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“That’s all I’ve got to say. Honestly. Please read the next sentence.”

And while some of the Apostle Paul’s written creations, which translated into English appear to incorporate every preposition available, do bear reading, and re-reading, and re-re-reading, this doesn’t mean that we have to approach the entire Bible this way.

Read the Whole Story at One Sitting

John Chapter 9 is one such passage — the whole chapter is worth absorbing at one time because it’s a story, a very important one, about a man who was born blind and was healed — on the Sabbath — by Jesus. After reading it, you’ll no doubt want to stroll through, slowly, again, but enjoy the story first.

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There is much to savor and ponder in this passage, not the least of which is the disciples’ question in 9:2:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

What an absurd statement! we scoff. But is it, really? And do we, perhaps, ascribe a bit to its beliefs?

Let’s look at two logical questions that the disciples’ query brings up:

1) How could God justify punishing a person before he was born?

and

2) Why would God punish a child — an unborn one at that — because of the foibles of his parents?

Lilac Festival inspirational original oil painting of little girl with flowers in garden by Steve Henderson licensed print at Framed Canvas Art

Because the idea of sending an innocent child to hell repulsed reason, we developed the Doctrine of the Age of Reason. Lilac Festival, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art.

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To the first question, we have to consider how many people unquestioningly embrace the Doctrine of Original Sin, developed in the second century and after, and not specifically addressed by any Biblical writer, which pretty much gives credence to punishing a person before he was born:

Because of Adam, we are told, we are all sinners who deserve to spend eternity in hell, reprehensible in God’s sight, which leads to yet another question,

Why would God make something in the first place that He hates and condemns?

Regarding the second question, if this were true, (and it looks a lot like the Doctrine of Original Sin), then we belie the words of Ezekiel Chapter 18, which takes great pains to explain that, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.” (verse 16)

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Creeds and Doctrine, versus Scripture

So perhaps the disciples’ question wasn’t so absurd after all, in light of some of the things we accept, simply because we’ve been told that, a long time ago, the Church Fathers (whoever they were) came up with an assortment of creeds and doctrines that we are obligated to believe. It’s not to say that the creeds and doctrines are superfluous and completely invalid, but neither to do they answer all questions for all time, and it would good to keep the doors of discussion open.

Awkward observations, however,  are not readily, easily, or acceptably brought up in a large group Bible study, but in the privacy of our bedroom, or with one or two trusted, and safe confidantes, we are free to ask questions of Scripture. We are also free to wait on the answers, as opposed to passively and silently accepting what we are given.

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Back to the blind man: let’s jump to verse 35, after the man was healed, and after he spent a significant time being grilled by the Pharisees and religious leaders, because quite frankly, they did NOT like his story.

“Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

“‘Who is he sir?’ the man asked. ‘Tell me so that I may believe in him.'”

The Shepherd Seeks His Sheep

Two things jump out to me in this passage:

1) Jesus went looking for the man.

What an image that is! Rejected by the leaders and ostracized, the man paid dearly — in human terms — for the miracle of his sight, but Jesus Went Looking for Him.

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How often are we convinced that God washes His hands of us because we’ve said something wrong, or thought something mean, or acted in a fashion displeasing? And yet always, in our relationship together, it is God who acts first, God who calls us, God who looks for us, God who waits, God who forgives.

It’s worth remembering this.

Seeing, Literally, Is Believing

2) The man was so grateful to Jesus — about whom he knew nothing more than that He had healed him — that he was willing to follow, and believe in, anything He said.

Wow.

“What,” I asked God, “have you done for me like what you did for this man?”

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“I opened your eyes as well,” came the answer. “You were blind, too.”

“But it hasn’t been particularly pleasant,” I replied. “Waking up and having my eyes opened meant our being ostracized from certain group situations, because we no longer believed the way we were told.”

“The man born blind, whose sight was recovered, was kicked out too. Do you think he wants his blindness back?”

Well, no. And neither do I. As difficult as it is to see presuppositions, tradition, and convention upset, it is far better to honestly question, admit doubt, and do something about it than it is to plug one’s ears, close one’s eyes, and insist, “I don’t want to know about it! It may change the way I believe!”

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You Don’t Have to Look Blind, to Be Blind

Jesus says at the conclusion of the chapter,

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

There are many people — prominent and outspoken religious leaders — in the world today who encourage us to follow them because, they assure, they know the truth, and will pass it on to us, but the very Bible from which they quote is the same book many of us have in our homes, and there is nothing to stop us from opening it up, on our own, and reading what’s inside.

The healing of the man born blind was offensive to the Jewish leaders not so much because of what happened, but because of Who made it happen — Jesus, and everything about Him, was anathema because everything He said and did went against standard, accepted, conventional religious teaching.

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The closer we follow Him, the more we seek, the more we question, the more we read — the more likely that we, too, will find ourselves at variance with standard, accepted, conventional thought.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage individual, ordinary believers to study Scripture, learn from those who have something to teach, but never give up their independence of thought to another human being.

Silly Little Rules

Reading the Bible without Supervision

Why Ordinary Christians Can, and Should, Speak up

 

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Confusing God with Santa Claus? Yes. And No.

posted by Carolyn Henderson

As Christians, we scold ourselves a lot, not the least of which is about prayer.

Have you heard this one?

“God isn’t Santa Claus, you know, and He gets tired of our putting a wish list in front of Him all the time.”

The Christmas List inspirational original oil painting of Santa Claus at North Pole by Steve Henderson licensed print at iCanvasART

We are often accused of treating Jesus like Santa Claus, and while sometimes this is true, just as many other times it is not. The Christmas List, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at iCanvasART

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While it’s true that God isn’t Santa Claus, the implication that He emits an exasperated sigh whenever we approach Him with our requests, belies the encouragement we are given to do so in Philippians 4:6:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

The Santa Claus association also reduces the trusting belief of the average believer to childish demands, implying that we are focused on Me Me Me all the time when we express our fears about finances, health, relationships, or life direction — key areas all humans struggle with.

“Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 7:7. This clear invitation to bare our hurts, needs, wants, and desires before the One who loves us doesn’t come with caveats, like — “Don’t pray for a new car. That’s selfish. And don’t pray for small, insignificant things. That wastes My time.”

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All Prayers Matter

While it’s easy to look at other people’s prayers — especially if they have been vulnerable enough to share them with us — and discount them as immature, shallow, unimportant, and just plain wrong — it is not our job to police the thoughts of others, and the beauty of grace is that we can pray for something even with the wrong motivations, and Jesus does not impatiently thrust us aside, exclaiming,

“Come back when you have something worth talking to Me about!”

When we ask for a new car, and our motives are truly selfish, we may or may not get the car — but complementing the answer will be gentle teaching on the part of the ultimate Teacher, who is constantly forming and shaping us into better, wiser, more loving beings. (This is an aspect pointedly overlooked and ignored by the Prosperity Preaching crowd, which makes hay, and money, by preying upon people’s desire for material wealth.)

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Unlike humans, Jesus does not resort to petty scolding, shaming, berating, censuring, and reproaching. In case we haven’t noticed, negative techniques, while they can bring about a temporary change, generally don’t work for the long term — and long term, as in eternity — is a big thing with God.

Jesus Does Things Differently

As an example of Christ’s way of doing things, John chapter 6 relates Jesus’s feeding the 5,000, in which He takes five small barley loaves and two fish, gives thanks, and executes the ultimate doing a lot with a little performance. People were impressed, so much so that the next day, finding Him gone, they seriously went looking, bundling themselves into boats and rowing across the lake to the other side — no easy feat.

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They were looking for Jesus. Sort of.

Shore Leave inspirational original oil painting of two rowboats on beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at great big canvas icanvasart and framed canvas art

Frequently, our motives for seeking Christ are less pure than we admit to ourselves, but this doesn’t cause Him to reject us. Shore Leave, original oil painting by Steve Henderson. Licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.

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“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and had your fill,” was the first thing He told them in verse 26.

Signs and wonders always fascinate us, and throughout the Gospels, people seek them:

“Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe.” Jesus told a royal official seeking a cure for his dying son in John 4:48.

When we consider this as a reproof, it looks harsh, because the man’s response is, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”

It’s a prayer any of us would make, and Jesus’s statement, as opposed to scolding, is simply stating a fact — a true fact, as further verses show:

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“The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, ‘The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.’

“Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ So he and all his household believed.”

Notice the juxtaposition?

He Does Not Condemn Us 

Jesus knows, but does not condemn us for, our sincere desire that He prove His power, grace, mercy, and love for us through His actions. It’s a sign of our spiritual immaturity, but our loving Father knows how to raise children.

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Let’s go back to John 6:26-27, in which Jesus points out that His “followers” were satisfied with something far less than even signs and wonders — they would settle for bread and fish — extremely temporary desires that need to be fulfilled again and again:

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you,” He says.

In other words, seek the Creator, not the creation; the One Who answers the prayer, as opposed to the prayer’s answer. It’s a fine, but important distinction, one that may take a long, long period of frustrated, unanswered prayer before we see the importance of striving — asking, seeking, knocking — for.

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Because once we get bread, once it’s eaten, it’s gone. Jesus encourages us to seek “the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.” (John 6:50)

This bread will sustain us through everything, and it is ultimately what we should — but frequently don’t — seek, because we are temporal creatures, battened and battered about by our circumstances, and seeking relief from pain, anxiety, and fear.

That relief is there, but to avoid going up and down with our circumstances — happy because this prayer was answered, but unhappy because it wasn’t answered quite the way we wanted; relieved that the check came in, but panicking about the money needed for tomorrow’s bills — we have to focus less on the answer to our prayers, and more on the One doing the answering.

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“Your forefathers ate manna and died,” Jesus tells the Jews. “but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:58)

Let us pray — confidently, trustingly, and many times with the wrong motivations — but let us rest in the hands of Him who loves us enough to guide us, teach us, hold us, and love us.

He’s bigger — and better — than Santa Claus.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Quite frankly, I have told God more than once, “I’m less interested in growing in maturity than I am in Your answering my prayer.”

We are free to be honest with Him — that’s what grace is all about.

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Posts complementing this one include

Silly Little Rules

Yes or No: Does God Hear Our Prayers?

Why Are You So Afraid? Do You Still Have No Faith?

 

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