All That Jesus Began to Do

When you think of the Book of Acts, what comes to mind? Do you imagine the Holy Spirit, descending as visible tongues of fire, empowering Jesus’ disciples to speak in the many languages of the earth? Do you think of Peter and John defying the Sanhedrin, obeying God and not man? Do you think of Stephen’s scourging indictment of the apostasy of God’s people and his subsequent martyrdom? Do you think of the blinding light that apprehended Saul on the road to Damascus? Or Peter’s vision that led him to count the gentile God-fearer, Cornelius, as a brother in Christ? Does the folly and death of King Agrippa grip you, or do the great missionaries journeys of Paul, Barnabus, and others capture your imagination? Could it be that the nobility of the Bereans or Paul’s last word to the Ephesians elders or the prophetic pleadings of Agabus fill your mind’s eye? Maybe the roiling seas and shipwreck on Malta captivate you. Do you imagine Paul in Rome, preaching the Gospel under house arrest?

The Book of Acts is often called the Acts of the Apostles, but that is something of a misnomer. When Luke writes in Acts 1:1 that his earlier account of Jesus’ birth, life, miracles, death, and resurrection—which we know as the Gospel of Luke—represents “all that Jesus began to do and teach,” he helps us rightly to interpret that which follows. All that Jesus began to do and teach in person before His ascension into heaven, He also continues to do and teach—by the power of His Holy Spirit—through the ministry of the apostles. The Book of Acts, when properly understood, is comprised of Jesus’ continuing activities. Jesus saves. Jesus converts. Jesus grows His church. Jesus tears down spiritual strongholds. Jesus empowers ministry. And Jesus’ disciples—which includes you and me—are privileged to participate. Jesus chooses to use “jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

All the praise for the miraculous acts of the apostles goes to the Lord and Savior of the apostles alone.

Transgender Troops and the Civil Rights Red Herring

If persons who identify as transgendered are forbidden to serve in the United States’ military, have they been deprived of a civil right?

The asking of the question—which the media is not so much asking as asserting—betrays something of a misunderstanding. War-fighting is not a sphere of activity that has traditionally concerned itself with egalitarian ideals, personal expression, or diversity quotas. It is concerned with combat readiness, and that concern produces rules that proscribe participation.

If you are too young or too old you cannot serve. If you have a history of drug use or mental illness you cannot serve. If you lack a high school diploma or GED you cannot serve. If you are too fat you cannot serve. If you lack a bachelor’s degree you cannot commission as an officer. If your eyesight is weak you may not train as a pilot. If you fail to promote, you must eventually leave the military and your career ends. Once you reach a certain age you must retire. The list continues.

These rules determine who serves, the capacity in which they serve, and their length of service. Such rules exist not to deny any person his or her civil rights, but to ensure military readiness. When political correctness, the claims of egalitarianism, or identity agendas attempt to redefine the rules, however, the conversation is often framed in terms of civil rights.

Is it really about civil rights? If it is, then refusal to allow morbidly obese persons to serve is also a civil rights issue, for it represents unwarranted government discrimination against overweight people. The mandatory retirement age for officers is also a civil rights issue, for it represents government-sanctioned ageism. Every rule that determines who serves, for how long, and in what capacity can be seen as a civil rights violation, but only if a civil right is defined as my right to do what I want when I want for as long as I want in whatever institution I want—including the military. Simply because I desire to serve, is it my inalienable right to do so? Historically, our answer has been No.

That answer is now changing. From opening combat roles to women to opening military service to those who identify as transgendered, it is clear that combat-readiness is no longer necessarily the driving concern that governs our rules of military service; political correctness that defines self-expression as a civil right now drives the bus.

In Joshua 8:3 “Joshua and all the fighting men arose to go up to Ai. And Joshua chose 30,000 mighty men of valor and sent them out by night.” Note those whom Joshua did not take into battle: women, children, the aged, or the infirm. He took fighting men, and even distinguished those who were merely physically capable of fighting from those who were trained and proven warriors—the “mighty men of valor.” Joshua’s decision made sense from a military standpoint, while it also precluded women, children, the aged, and the infirm from participating in armed conflict.

President Trump’s transgender military ban will likely suffer judicial overthrow, and even if it does not a subsequent President will reverse his policy. The dye is now cast, and our society has transitioned from one that makes military decisions based upon war fighting concerns to one that makes decisions based upon politically correct concerns, which are conveniently—if not erroneously—framed in terms of basic civil rights.

Simply put, military service is not a civil right. It is a privilege.

Our nation has—without public protest—denied that privilege to various segments of its own citizenry for years. Sometimes, as in the case of refusing black men the right to fight for their country on equal terms with white men, that denial has been grounded in raw prejudice rather than military necessity. Some will argue that the same is true in reference to transgender troops. If so, then they should make the argument that transgender troops will not adversely affect war-fighting capabilities, rather than making the disingenuous claim that a transgender military ban violates a civil right.

It does no such thing, and to assert so is to offer a red herring.

Various Shades of Nonsense

Common sense has died in the United States. In its place stands a suffocating political correctness, in which nonsense reigns.

An Asian sportscaster named Robert Lee is forbidden from announcing a University of Virginia football game because Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general. Clearly, this Korean-American is a danger, and is secretly hoping that the South will rise again.

College students riot for freedom and against hatred by calling any person with whom they disagree a hater, while forbidding him to speak freely on their campus. Evidently, freedom of speech requires silencing free speech.

The same people who insist that no government can control a woman’s reproductive rights insist with equal vehemence that the government must control her carbon emissions. It is too bad that an unborn child is not comprised of glacial ice; maybe then they would value it.

Multimillionaire sports figures dishonor the flag of the very nation whose laws protect their right to dishonor the flag, and which has provided them with the opportunity to prosper beyond their wildest dreams. We should all be so afflicted.

Antifa—which stands for Anti-Fascist—is a fascist organization. Maybe that is more indicative of irony than nonsense, but you get the point.

Christian, Jesus has told you that you dwell “as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” While Bible-believing Christians have often majored in dove-like behavior, the day has come in which we must also pursue serpent-like wisdom, for our nation is fleeing common sense and is running headlong into the arms of various shades of nonsense.

Common sense has died in our culture; let wisdom rise in our Churches.

The Great Evangelical Shibboleth

Derived from an Israelite conflict recorded in Judges 12, a Shibboleth is a belief, person, or practice—or even a word pronunciation—that distinguishes one group from another. A Shibboleth is thus a watershed; it divides.

Evangelical Christianity in America has long been wedded to and has sought to influence culture through political power. In recent years the union of the Republican Party and the evangelical Church has been nearly complete, and evangelical leaders have found their latest champion in an unlikely man: Donald Trump. The support that evangelical Christians offered Mitt Romney—who is a Mormon—made sense. Though not a Christian, Romney is a moral man. The evangelical love affair with Mr. Trump, however, raises the question: When will President Trump cross the Rubicon into territory—political or moral—into which evangelicals will not follow?

Candidate Trump’s two divorces did not dissuade evangelicals from supporting him; his noted philandering and Access Hollywood groping comments did not dissuade them; his compulsive, unrepentant lying did not dissuade them. In the same way, President Trump’s comments on Charlottesville have not dissuaded his evangelical supporters. What will?

Mr. Trump’s own people cringe in visible discomfort during his interactions with the press. He is a proverbial loose cannon whose Twitter account is a juggernaut of self-inflicted reproach. He denigrates members of his party—and his own political appointments—for perceived incompetence, while at the same time prevaricating on the moral evils of racism. While former presidents did not condescend to bandy petty words with a North Korean sociopath, President Trump appears purposefully to taunt Kim Jong Un, openly inviting ill-advised military action. When Mr. Trump is displeased with an unflattering piece of journalism or a fact that might challenge him, he dismisses it as “fake news,” while his own words provide fact checkers with unassailable job security. None of which appears to have lessened his support among evangelicals.

Mr. Trump’s economic advisory council has abandoned him; his evangelical faith advisors have not. Republican Senator, Robert Corker, has recently questioned the President’s competence, while the ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal has predicted that Mr. Trump will resign his office before year’s end; Jerry Falwell Jr., however, is standing firm in his support, spinning the President’s post-Charlottesville comments into a palatable albeit politically incorrect rejection of white supremacy. A recent commentator questioned the President’s mental health, suggesting that he suffers from a personality disorder; evangelical pastor Robert Jeffress, however, thinks that the President is the right man to control a nuclear arsenal.

I do not blame Donald Trump for being Donald Trump. I pray for him daily, as all Christians should. In fact, I am thankful for him. He is exposing the emptiness of the evangelical movement, for he is revealing the lengths to which evangelicals will go to sanitize and support him, and—by extension—to promote their own political interests.

I love the Church and want to see her thrive, and I feel as though I am watching the death throes of American evangelicalism. Donald Trump is revealing the extent to which evangelical Christianity in America is enslaved to the allure of political power. If evangelicals leaders continue to hitch their wagon to Donald Trump—and to hopes of a legislated moral revival through him—they will self-strangle the last vestiges of spiritual authority the evangelical movement possesses at the very moment in time when our nation most needs spiritual leadership. Offering repeated excuses for Mr. Trump’s folly and immorality, while turning a blind eye toward his manifest lack of Christian character, evangelical leaders are sabotaging their own credibility.

If the evangelical Church hopes to represent Jesus faithfully and to promote His Kingdom, then she must forego her political ambitions and return to her spiritual mission of disciple making. Evangelicals have long ceased to identify as a sojourning people—a people who are not at home here—and have sought to transform this land into the Promised Land through political activism and legislated moral engineering. The evangelical Church has traded her birthright for pottage, and it is time for her to acknowledge that her house is a wreck. She has forgotten her first love.

Churches and leaders that continue down the path of political entanglement will eventually die the spiritual death of a thousand moral cuts. Think of Al Sharpton. Who considers him a faithful representative of Jesus? He is a shill for political liberalism. And yet evangelical leaders seem to believe that they will avoid the same perception. They will not.

There is still time to repent, to return to the work of the Great Commission, and to pursue spiritual Kingdom-building as ambassadors for Jesus, but that time is fast fading.

The great evangelical Shibboleth has arrived, and the Church must choose her allegiance.

I Love You So Much I Hate

Hate suffers a bad reputation these days. Its public image sits in a state of disrepair, not unlike that of cigarettes or the Kardashians. Few give much love to hate. We label those with whom we disagree haters. If those with whom we disagree assemble, we call them a hate group. If they say something that we find offensive, then surely it is hate speech. Hate has never been so vilified.

I, however, sympathize with hate, and I want briefly to encourage you to cultivate a healthy relationship with hate. Why? Love. Love is the reason why you should hate.

Imagine that a belief is circulating among your neighbors, which many of them have embraced. The belief is this: If you include a small amount of arsenic in your coffee in the morning and in your wine in the evening, it will stave off cancer. Your neighbors desire a cancer-free life, and they have come wholeheartedly to believe that arsenic consumption is the way to achieve it.

You love your neighbors and want their best, and you know that their arsenic habit will eventually kill them. Because you love them you speak out, opposing their practice, but they turn on you and call you a hater. They have mistaken the target of your hate. You don’t hate your neighbor; you hate a belief that you know has deceived and will ultimately destroy your neighbor. You hate the belief because you love your neighbor.

Suppose I reject belief in voodoo. I do not hate people who practice voodoo. I am, however, convinced that the belief itself is unbiblical, and that if followed it will—like every other false belief, sin, or idol—ultimately enslave and ruin those who live according to it. I hate this belief without in any way hating the people who are living according to it. In fact, it is because I love the people—and want them to thrive both now and forevermore—that I hate the belief that ruins them. If I did not hate such beliefs, how could I truly claim to love the people affected by them? If I love you, I will hate that which hurts you. If I love you, I will hate that which enslaves you. If I love you, I will hate that which kills you. Sometimes the best way to love is to hate.

Consider Jesus. He hated the beliefs of the Pharisees. They had turned the Law of God, which was supposed to lead sinners to their Savior, into both a triviality and a crushing burden. Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers, for their belief that it was acceptable to run a marketplace during a worship service deprived God’s people of access to His house of prayer. Jesus likewise opposed the beliefs of the Sadducees—who denied the resurrection—because their belief robbed God’s people of the great hope that their Savior would one day redeem them soul and body for an eternity in His Kingdom. Jesus hated these false beliefs, for they hurt, enslaved, and crushed God’s people. He hated those beliefs because He loved His people so fiercely.

Christian, do you have a healthy relationship with hate? Do you love the lost enough to hate the beliefs that ruin them? Do you love them enough to say so? If you are genuinely convinced that your neighbor whom you love believes in the spiritual equivalent of arsenic consumption, then you cannot in good conscience stand by in silence while he takes his twice-daily dose of death. If you love your neighbor you will hate the beliefs that destroy him. You will also say so, knowing that he might mistake the target of your hatred; he might think you hate him when in fact you hate the belief that is killing him.

But if you love your neighbor, you will risk everything to save him.

Hate is not all bad. Properly understood hate serves love. Maybe there is no repairing the public reputation of cigarettes or of Kardashians, but surely hate can be rehabilitated.

Because sometimes, I love you so much I hate.

Fallen Statues and the Arrogance of Moral Superiority

Confederate statues are falling. Some are delighted. Others are dismayed.

I am far less concerned with the statues than I am intrigued by how those statues have revealed a strain of moral arrogance within the American populace. To put it bluntly, we think we’re better than past generations.

Our sense of moral superiority is currently directed against racism, and specifically at the evils of the Confederacy. This present generation views the Civil War generation—or at least the Southern part of it—as a monolithic collection of knuckle-dragging haters. Any suggestion whatsoever that men who served the Confederacy possessed admirable attributes is shouted down in a hail of angry salvos—the verbal equivalent of Molotov cocktails. The morally superior demand a blanket condemnation of all Confederates, for our moral indignation suffers no nuance.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to see the South rise again, and I am convinced that racism is a wanton repudiation of the Bible. Nor do I believe that monuments of Confederate leaders must remain in order for our nation to remember its history. Were every statue removed, the national wounds of Antietam, Shiloh, and Gettysburg would remain. No exercise in monument removal can scour the Civil War from our collective conscience.

Nevertheless, current rhetoric and actions in reference to Confederate monuments spring from this assumption: I would not have been on their side had I been alive then, and therefore I am morally superior to them. Surely I would not have been a slaveholder; would not have supported slavery; I would not have been a Confederate.

Such views are self-serving and presumptuous.

Technology advances from generation to generation; clothing styles change; political winds blow. Human nature remains unaltered. Each person within every generation is conceived and born in sin. For each of us the assessment of Jeremiah 17:9 rings true. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Even as the Apostle Paul acknowledges in Titus 3:3, “We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Paul did not escape that indictment. Neither did his audience. Nor do we. Moreover, Paul did not say that later generations outgrew his assessment. Society does not evolve to a higher morality, and this present generation possesses no moral advantages over the generation that we are currently disparaging. Instead, Paul continues in Titus 3:4-5, writing, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” We are not morally superior to Confederate soldiers; we are merely immoral in different ways. We all stand in need of a Savior.

An old phrase thus comes to mind: But for the grace of God there go I. If you are not a racist, if you rightly condemn the evils of slavery, and if you could not dream of having supported the Confederacy, then thank God. It is due only to the grace of God that you were born in a different time and place, and were subject to better influences. You possess no moral superiority, and neither do I. We possess only the grace of God that has prevented us from becoming the very racists that we now abjure.

No racist will be cured of his racism by removing a statue. None will suddenly see the light because he has been called a hater. The grace of God in Christ Jesus alone will deliver us from being “hated by others and hating one another.”

All the moral superiority is His.

Intolerance is Not Enough

Intolerance is not enough.

A functional ethic requires more than mere opposition to perceived abuse. If my ethic is, “I will be mean to the mean people; I will be intolerant of the intolerant people; I will hate the haters,” then I have no ethic. I simply have a prejudice that I believe is justified by virtue of the perceived character of those whom I oppose.

Is racism evil? Yes. Why? Too many people who have vocalized anger over the events that have unfolded in Charlottesville have no basis for their anger other than their perception that racism is mean, and that they themselves are not racist. In other words, the only reason that they can muster for their opposition to racism is their own self-righteous pride. Is that all? Is there no more substance to our protest?

There is more. Racism defies the Scripture.

Racism repudiates biblical teaching about Creation, flatly denying the truth stated in Genesis 1:26-27:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” . . . So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

All human beings, regardless of skin color or ethnicity or place of origin bear the image of God. There are no exceptions. Racism repudiates this biblical teaching about Creation, ascribing less value—and therefore less humanity—to particular groups of people, or ascribing greater value to others.

Racism also repudiates biblical teaching about redemption.

In Galatians 3:16, the Apostle Paul teaches that God made promises of salvation to Abraham. “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘And to your offspring,’ who is Christ.” Jesus is the promise of salvation made to Abraham, and to all who, like Abraham, trust in the same promise. Paul therefore continues in verses 27-29, declaring, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Jesus has come to redeem peoples from all nations of the earth, and in His Kingdom stand a kaleidoscope of human colors and forms and ethnicities. Racism rejects this biblical teaching about redemption, denigrating the full humanity of men and women for whom Christ died.

Intolerance is therefore not enough. If my only line of defense against white nationalism or racism is to hate the haters, then I have no ethic other than self-righteous pride in the fact that I am not among them, which is little more than a prejudice against the prejudiced. Moreover, if the day comes that someone else perceives me to be the hater or the intolerant one, I will have no defense against their attacks, for prejudice admits no argument.

If, however, I am grounded in the Scripture, and if I stand in Christ by faith, then I have solid ground, not only for evaluating and opposing unbiblical forms of thought and behavior, but also for defending myself against the prejudice that resides at the root of all self-righteousness.

Intolerance is not enough.