How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?

The Gospel records a three year period of time in which Jesus seemingly performed miracles, signs and wonders everywhere he went. Perhaps, the accounts in the Gospels give us an impression that doesn’t correspond to the reality because they recount the many miraculous things he did, but they don’t describe all the times in between.

It seems strange, given all the miracles, signs and wonders that Jesus did that the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus one day to test him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. (Matt. 16:1) Perhaps, they wanted him to do it on command, like a science experiment to prove himself.

Perhaps, they had only heard of the things Jesus did, but they hadn’t actually seen him do anything. Perhaps, they didn’t trust the accounts of the common people Jesus seemed to prefer to hang out with. They were more gullible and less discerning.

Attitudes like that haven’t changed much in 2000 years. The Sadducees and Pharisees were more learned. The Sadducees didn’t believe in supernatural occurrences, miracles or demons. The Pharisees did believe in those things, but they were skeptical. The two groups had very different worldviews, but they were aligned in their skepticism.

When these elite religious leaders asked Jesus for a private performance – “a sign from heaven” – he refused .

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign[i]; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.” 

(Matthew 16:4)

The fact that these two groups, one that believed in the supernatural and one that didn’t, were aligned in their skepticism suggests that their “problem” with Jesus was that he challenged their dogmas. They doubted the fact that he did miracles, signs and wonders because of the content of what he was saying.

Jesus seemed to revel in provoking them on those differences!

The Pharisees (who believed in the supernatural) determined that healing on the Sabbath is work and is, therefore, prohibited by the Law of Moses. They demanded that Jesus not heal on the Sabbath, but Jesus did it anyway. (Matt. 12:1-14)

Ironically, this healing that was done right in the Pharisees’ presence occurred four chapters before they came to Jesus and demanded a sign from heaven. They had seen a sign from heaven already and dismissed it out of hand because it went against their beliefs.

Jesus challenged their preconceived ideas and expectations. He challenged their authority to determine what is work in violation of the Sabbath and what isn’t. They watched Jesus heal a man with a shriveled hand, but they dismissed it because of what he taught that was contrary to what they believed.

God showed the Pharisees a sign (the healing of a man with a shriveled hand), but they were too focused on his violation of their understanding of Scripture and religious dogma to notice it for what it was.

This story illustrates the danger of our religious dogmas and preconceived ideas of what God should do and not do. Even when the evidence is staring us in the face, we can be tempted to ignore it, gloss over it, and explain it away in favor of how we interpret and understand Scripture.

Continue reading “How Do We Demand Signs and Miss What God is Doing in the World?”

Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?

Photo by Ken Gortowski

I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:

“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i] itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so…. 

Romans 8:7

“[C]reation was subjected[ii] to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”

Romans 8: 20-21

Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.

But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.

Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.

If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?

The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.

Continue reading “Why Did God Subject the World to Futility?”

The Boldness that Comes from Being Filled with the Holy Spirit … and Refilled

I wrote previously about fear and how God’s perfect love casts out all fear. The followers of Jesus feared when he was taken away by the Romans in the garden. They continued to fear while he was being mocked and beaten and hung on the cross. After he was dead and buried, they hunkered down in fear, meeting behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. (John 20:19)

Even after Jesus appeared to them, risen from the dead in the flesh, the apostles continued to live in fear. It was not until they were filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost that they emerged out of their funk from behind locked, closed doors to preach the Gospel boldly in the crowded streets of Jerusalem.

As I continue to read through the Bible, now in the book of Acts, I see something else that I hadn’t seen before. In Acts 3 & 4, we see Peter and John healing a lame man, being hauled in front of the Sanhedrin and being instructed to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Afterward, Peter and John met with the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem and prayed for boldness to keep speaking the gospel in the name of Jesus!

I previously observed that this change from fearful believers hiding behind closed doors to bold proclaimers of the Gospel on the crowded city streets happened only after they were filled with the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t Jesus appearing to them, risen from the dead, that overcame their fear; it was the Holy Spirit!

But there is more. They prayed for boldness while remembering the words of David in the Psalms (Psalm 2:1-2):

‘Why did the Gentiles [nations] rage,
And the peoples devise futile things?
‘The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ [Anointed One/Messiah].’

Acts 4:25-26

There will be opposition when we preach in the name of Jesus. That’s why we need the boldness. We need to be able to overcome our fear of rejection and our unhealthy desire for favor from people.

I suffer greatly from this defect, myself, which I recognize as I read through these passages. I need that boldness that comes from God’s Holy Spirit, or I will continue hide “behind closed” doors – or maybe the keyboards of this computer on which I type!

And, there is one more thing before I get to the point. I think this is an area in which we could all use a little bit of dying to self. I certainly speak for myself when I say that I stand in my own way of being able to preach the Gospel boldly as Peter and John did. My self, my flesh, is in the way of me being who God wants me to be in Him. That flesh, that self that is in the way, needs to die. It needs to yield to God. It needs to be sacrificed to the purposes of God.

Not that I have overcome this self. I confess and admit to you as I write this that I have not. But, that brings me to the final point.

Continue reading “The Boldness that Comes from Being Filled with the Holy Spirit … and Refilled”

If God’s Love Casts Out Fear, Being Filled with the Spirit means Being Filled with Love Free from Fear

The apostle, John, wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18) This was written by a man who, when the chips were down for Jesus, kept his distance from Jesus in fear with the rest of the apostles. When Jesus tried to tell them of the need for him to die and be raised from the dead, they did not understand. He predicted they would forsake him.

“You will all fall away because of Me this night…. (Matthew 26:31)

Peter pumped his chest with bravado as he protested that he would never leave, (Matthew 26:32-33), but Jesus knew Peter better than Peter knew himself. He knew that Peter would deny him not once, but three separate times. (Matthew 26:34)

So great was the fear that overtook the disciples that they scattered after Jesus was taken by the Roman soldiers. Though Peter stayed back to witness the interrogation, beatings, mocking and humiliation to which Jesus was subjected, but he denied that he knew him three separate times.

Fear is a powerful emotion. It can overwhelm us and cause us to stumble from the path that we know is right. How do we overcome fear?

When Jesus was present, the apostles were different men. One of them even drew a sword on the Roman soldiers when they came to take Jesus in the garden. (Matthew 26:51) But, with Jesus absent, suffering at the hands of those same Roman soldiers, the apostles’ bravado turned to fear.

Even after Peter and John went to the tomb, found it empty and “believed” (John 20:8), they were still fearful. When Jesus came to them after he had risen from the dead, he found the disciples behind locked doors “for fear of the Jews”. (John 20:19)

In that encounter, Jesus appeared to them, showed them his hands and his side, and spoke to them. He breathed on them and said to them, “receive the Holy Spirit”. Certainly that would have changed the demeanor of the disciples! Right?

It didn’t. Eight days later Jesus came to them again, and he found them, once again, inside and behind locked doors. (John 20:26) Nothing had changed.

After Jesus ascended to heaven, after spending about forty more days with the apostles, speaking to them and confirming his words with signs (Acts 1:1-3), the apostles returned to the upper room where they had been staying. (Acts 1:12) They remained cloistered.

The apostles were not empowered by Jesus appearing to them, by him breathing the Holy Spirit upon them or by explaining to them everything that they didn’t understand. After all of that, the apostles remaining holed up in the upper room.

The apostles didn’t venture out with boldness until after the Holy Spirit came upon them and filled them. (Acts 2:2-4) Filled with the Holy Spirit, they drew a crowd (Acts 2:6) and stood up and addressed the crowd, and the crowd was “amazed and astonished”. (Acts 2:7) Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter boldly addressed the “men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem” (Acts 2:14) demanding that they repent and be baptized. (Acts 2:38)

The same apostles who cowered and scattered when Jesus was taken and remained in hiding fearful of the Jews even after Jesus appeared to them risen from the dead became bold, did not become courageous proclaimers of the Gospel until they were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Love is from God (1 John 4:7), and God is love. (1 John 4:8) Those who are filled with the Holy Spirit are filled with love, and perfect love casts out all fear.

If we are fearful, we have are not filled with the Holy Spirit. If we are fearful are not filled with love. If the God is love, the Spirit of God is love, and perfect love casts out all fear. .

God, please fill me with your Holy Spirit and drive out the fear lurking in my heart!

How the “God of the Old Testament” vs. God of the New Testament Idea Might Inform Our Politics

We should have the same mindset as Jesus in doing politics.


In the short YouTube segment, Are There Two Different Gods in the Old and New Testaments? (Part Two), Gareth Black does a good job describing why God appears differently in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. There is one God, but He relates differently to people.

I have explored this dichotomy before, but I don’t want to focus on it here, other than to set the stage for what I really want to lay out. The difference in the way God related to people at different times might just become a guide for Christians doing politics.

First, we know the orthodox view: that the God of the Old Testament is the same God revealed in the New Testament through Jesus. While, heretics abound, this is the accepted view. Still, it sometimes seems like a tough pill to swallow.

God in the Old Testament focuses on commandments. He seems full of judgment and anger. The Ten Commandments God gave Moses became legion with all the ceremonial laws, food laws, cleansing laws, and dozens of other laws people were commanded to follow.

In the New Testament, it may seem like Jesus paid “lip service” to the laws (saying he didn’t come to abolish the Law), because he simplified them into just two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. Easy, right?

At the same time, Jesus seemed to turn up the heat. In the same discourse in which he said he didn’t come to abolish the law, he told his audience the following:

  • It’s not enough to refrain from murdering people; harboring disdain in your heart is like committing murder;
  • It’s not enough to refrain from committing adultery; lusting after a person in your heart is like committing adultery.

He said more than that, but you get the point. So, it’s as simple as loving God and neighbor. At the same time, it’s as difficult as controlling what is in your heart!

To say that Jesus went easier on people is to ignore these things that he said. At the same time, Jesus confronted the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery and saved her. He said he didn’t condemn her (though he also told her, “Go and sin no more.”)


What in the world is going on? If it seems difficult to sort out what is going on here, join the club.

Black offers one explanation in the video. He says God relates to people differently at different times, just as a parent relates differently to their children at different times. Parents tend to be strict with little children, imposing lots of rules about bedtimes, eating, watching TV, playing video games, doing homework and doing chores and so on.

That relationship can get contentious at times, especially as children get older and become more difficult. After children move out of the house, though, the relationship changes. It’s not that parents think the rules were bad; rather the children become adults, and become responsible for setting their own rules.

The analogy isn’t exactly the same with God, but similar. Paul says the Law was given to us as a guardian (tutor, schoolmaster, instructor, etc.). (Galatians 3:24) The Law was given to teach us something, to lay a certain foundation of understanding. The idea that Paul probably had in mind was a stern, taskmaster, training the children up with discipline.

The taskmaster’s relationship to the children is different than a parent’s relationship. A tutor only trains the children for a time when they are young. The instructor’s job is to make sure the children learn their lessons, and that is the only focus.


A parent is always a parent and never ceases to be a parent who loves and wants the best for the children. A taskmaster doesn’t love the children like a parent does.

But, it’s more complicated than that, and this is the key. The prophet Jeremiah talked about it in the context of a new covenant this way:

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)

This is God’s ultimate goal: that we would be receptive, willing and able to receive God’s law in us, written on our hearts.

God isn’t looking for law followers, but for children who desire to be like their father. He wants us to internalize His values and be like Him – not because we must, but because we want to!

Until Christ came, men were under the Law, but Christ came to earth in the form of a human and fulfilled the Law. He died to take the penalty for our transgression; he rose from the dead to demonstrate his authority and power over death; and he ascended to heaven, leaving the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter for us.

The Holy Spirit is how God now writes his Law in us, on our hearts. The Law is set aside, now, with its commands and regulations. (Eph. 2:15) God is looking for people willing to receive is Spirit and internalize His character in themselves as His children.

But what does this have to do with politics?

Continue reading “How the “God of the Old Testament” vs. God of the New Testament Idea Might Inform Our Politics”