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large prayer gathering

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Because of social distancing, this year’s observance will be very different than those in the past. Normally, churches and communities will gather for a worship service, a prayer breakfast, or a prayer service. Oftentimes, local politicians are invited to pray — or to be prayed over — during this time. For the national observance, popular Christian artists will perform for large crowds and popular Christian leaders will be asked to speak.

I’m not sure how much prayer actually happens at these events. In the events I’ve organized, I tried to make our time very prayer-centered rather than preacher-centered or church-centered. We used public forums to avoid the accusation that this was a “Baptist Thing” or even a specific church thing. We invited all churches and individuals to participate, per the National Day of Prayer’s guidelines. We tried to center the event on praying for the seven mountains/spheres of influence in America: Family, Religion, Education, Government, Media/Communication, Celebration (Arts, Entertainment, Sport), and Economics (Business, Science, Technology).

But what about Jesus’ statements where Jesus told His Disciples to not pray in public? (Matthew 6:5–8) A college friend of mine and I have had some heated disagreements on the application of this passage to the National Day of Prayer. He says that Jesus said Believers shouldn’t pray in public. My contention is that Jesus isn’t condemning the public display of prayer, but rather publicly praying for the purpose of being recognized and being applauded for doing so. Jesus’ emphasis is on the heart, the motivation for praying in public. He says the same for publicly giving to the poor and publicly fasting. His point is that if you’re only in it for the public recognition and public applause, that’s all you’ll get. If instead, you’re looking for the recognition and applause from your Father, then pray in secret, give in secret, and fast in secret.

So in the future on the National Day of Prayer — or the next time you go to church for that matter — consider your heart. Are you going to an event to be seen? Are you going to an event to be recognized? Are you going to an event in order that people will know how committed to prayer you are? Then be careful! If you’re wanting the applause of people, that’s all you’ll get. But if you want God to hear your prayers, pray in secret. Sure, pray in public, but don’t let all of your prayers be heard in public.

God’s more interested in your heart, not your public display of your faith.

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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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Paul asks if it's legal to flog an uncondemned Roman citizen.

In today’s Bible reading, we see Paul being stretched out to be flogged by the Romans. They want to know why the crowds are shouting against him. (Acts 22:24)

Paul asks the Centurion if it’s legal to flog an uncondemned Roman citizen. Uh-oh! They both know the answer to that question. The Centurion quickly tells the Commander, who asks if Paul is a citizen. Paul tells him that he was born a Roman citizen. Immediately, the Commander panics because he’s the one who put Paul in chains to be flogged. His life is on the line now!

This is a pivotal moment in Paul’s timeline. The Romans know that Paul is a Roman citizen, with all of the rights and privileges. If anything happens to Paul, the Centurion and the Commander will have to answer for it.

Application

Paul is a citizen of both the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God. Being a Roman Citizen opens doors for Paul, including giving him rights that the common person didn’t possess. And Paul took advantage of that in Acts 22 and following. As we continue through the book of Acts, we’ll see that Paul uses his Roman citizenship to appeal to Caesar against the claims of the Jewish leaders who are calling for his head. Exercising those rights will give him an audience with many very important people.

But Paul is also a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Throughout the book of Acts, and throughout his letters to the churches, Paul exercises the rights of this citizenship to call for the assistance of the King to open doors and hearts for ministry. God has given every Believer the same access to Himself through prayer that Paul had.

Don’t hesitate to exercise your citizenship rights.

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This commercial was rejected by Fox. It will not appear as a Super Bowl LIV ad. I honestly wonder why. How could this ad be rejected when so many others (remember Godaddy’s tasteless, highly suggestive Super Bowl ads?) have been allowed for years.

Pro-Lifers acknowledge the need to provide women’s health services. Pro-lifers acknowledge the need to honor women’s desires to control their own bodies.

This ad expresses the heart of the Pro-Life movement. Those who support abortion refuse to deal with the central issue in the debate: personhood. Actually, there is no debate because one side will not acknowledge the truth claims of the other side.

If you consider yourself to be “Pro-Choice”, I’m very interested in hearing your comments.

Note: I moderate all comments on this website. Whether or not we agree on the content of your comments, I will post them, so long as you refrain from namecalling and profanity.

In today’s Bible reading, we see the religious leaders’ influence over their people. People who had cheered Jesus’ arrival just a few days earlier are now calling for His head today. How does this happen?

One cannot overstate the influence of peers and leaders over the decisions we make. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ popularity. He didn’t do things as they did. He even questioned their ways of doing things as they questioned His ways of doing things. And because they felt threatened, the religious leaders colluded with government officials to have Jesus executed for baseless accusations. (Mark 15:11, 13, 14)

As I type this (admittedly a few days late, but back-dating it for consistency with the Reading Plan), the US Senate is beginning the Impeachment hearing for the President. This is the third Presidential Impeachment I have known in my lifetime. And this is unlike the others in so many ways.

I will not make this a political post. But I will say that the influence of some popular political leaders with an agreeable “mainstream” media and other “elite” individuals in Hollywood have made this sham what it is.

For the first time in our Nation’s history, a US President has been impeached by the US House with charges that in no way approach the seriousness imagined by the Framers of the US Constitution. The Framers set the bar very high for a reason. Impeachment is a big deal. And now, for the first time, a duly-elected US President could be thrown out of office simply for having policy differences with a (slight) majority political party (and a handful of unelected State Department bureaucrats) and asking the Judicial Branch to rule on unconstitutional subpoenas.

Now, I will not draw messianic implications to Donald Trump. He is not the messiah. but it’s important to see similarities for the falsely-accused.

Application

The main application point is that the crowds were given “fake news” and they acted on it, even when it contradicted what they knew to be true.

As you live your life and see things portrayed in the news media, commercials, and talk with friends and family, it’s crucial to ask if what you’re hearing is the truth. It may be fake news. Yes, major TV network “journalists” and hollywood stars don’t always tell the truth. Church leaders don’t always tell the truth either.

So before sharing things on social media, spend a few seconds considering is this really true? Who will be helped or hurt by what you post? And most importantly, will God be glorified by sharing this information you have received.

Let’s aim for truth. Let’s aim for glorifying God.

And let’s pray for our country! May God reveal the truth, regardless of the political party. And let’s prosecute the liars and deceivers. Regardless of the political party.

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