hoganEarlier today, Maryland heard from her governor, Larry Hogan, that he has cancer. The outpouring of care and prayer on sites like Facebook is encouraging. Reading supportive post after post, especially from lawmakers who are sharply divided with him politically, is an encouragement to the heart. Many are praying and public prayer vigils are being planned in every county. It’s interesting how people instinctively know that turning to the Great Physician in times like this is the right thing to do. How it would heal our troubled land if we turned to Him more than in days of suffering, yet I’m struck that there has been enough residual faith left in our collective culture that prayer is still a positive option for so many. Thank God for that.

Prayer for Governor Hogan’s health is altogether appropriate right now, regardless of your political view. The priority of 1 Timothy 2:1-4 is unchanging – for our leaders’ health as well as their wisdom and spiritual condition. Take several moments and follow that biblical mandate to pray for our governor and his family. The cancer he has can respond to aggressive chemotherapy. God is always able.

Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford will need our prayers, too, as he assumes more responsibility in the coming days. lt gov rutherford

Also, a site has been set up for one week for well-wishers to send a personal message to Governor Hogan. You can find it here until June 29, 2015. These comments will be collected and given to him as he recovers from treatment.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

baltimore policeThe beginning of Romans 13 describes the protection-design God gave societies when He instituted government. Right now, there are some in Baltimore (in government leadership and in the normal populace), who are in violation of this design. If individuals would understand, then act on the truth in this passage, the problems they are facing right now would take a major step in the right direction. But as it stands now, people don’t feel safe and (without the backing of superiors) the police don’t feel authorized to keep people safe.

What follows are the phrases you’ll read in the first four verses of Romans 13. (Keep in mind, if you believe your governmental leaders don’t deserve your submission and obedience, that Paul’s first-century government was the Roman Empire, led by Nero – not exactly a friend to the Christian or Jewish communities.)

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. – This is true of Baltimore and any other municipality. Governments are established by God for His purposes of safety and flourishing of the people. For that to happen, governmental leaders have to understand their God-given responsibility to keep order, rewarding and punishing depending on people’s behavior.

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. – There may have been abuses of authority by some Baltimore law enforcement officials, but mostly in America we should be grateful for those who risk their very lives to keep us safe. To watch the news or hear interviews of some citizens of Baltimore, the police are to be defied. There is judgment promised to those who defy God-appointed authority; one of those judgments should be consequences for such rebellious behavior. The problem for Baltimore right now is that the police are not arresting folks at the same rate as before, an unintended consequence for not supporting law enforcement as it should be. The mayor, police chief and state’s attorney bear responsibility for this judgment. During the riots, they coddled those who would destroy and terrorize.  

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. – If you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t have to fear any reprisals from law enforcement. Police need to keep this in mind as they serve. 

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. – There’s a good and right reason police carry tasers, night sticks and sidearms. It’s not in vain and has the sanction of the One who ordained governmental authority in the first place. If you get in a police officer’s face and/or try to take away said weapon, you might get hurt. That’s common sense and is a given. No monument needs to be erected to commemorate the life and death of one who foolishly violated this simple principle.

For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. – Government leaders and law enforcement officials should be God’s representatives to us for our good, keeping us safe by carrying out judgment on wrongdoers. That can only happen as their authority is properly recognized, respected and obeyed.

Police who respond to calls are being surrounded by mobs of 30 – 50 people threatening them. Political leaders have sided with criminals. The result? The very protectors of Baltimore’s safety that God has provided have been reduced to unrecognized authorities. You have negated God’s very instruments of your peace and now you can’t leave home without fear of being shot. When those in your communities embraced near anarchy, fueled by perceived injustice, what did you expect?

Baltimore – leaders and citizens – need to quit treating Romans 13 like it is something you can just take or leave. Right now, many are walking away from following its principles, and that is proving to everybody that it’s a disastrous decision.

Believers in Annapolis at the National Day of Prayer (May 7, 2015)

Believers in Annapolis at the National Day of Prayer (May 7, 2015)

A week ago today, people all over America gathered at events that centered on interceding for our country. The National Day of Prayer is an annual tradition for many and for that we should be grateful.

I took part in the observance at Lawyer’s Mall in Annapolis, Maryland. This is the spot used for most assembling that is done in the capital. During the legislative session, every day witnesses a protest or rally of some kind on a major issue or bill that is being debated. But on the first Thursday of May each year, that space is reserved for prayer.

We recited the pledge to the flag. We heard the national anthem sung. We prayed for several categories of influence in America – government, business, media, family and others. The gospel was presented. And the thing that always seems to strike me when I’m there is how biblical it is. How obedient to the Scriptures these folks are.

Here we stood in front of the capitol building, to the side of the governor’s house, across the street from the offices of the General Assembly and right next to the statue of Justice Thurgood Marshall.  Right in the middle of the center of power of Maryland with strong, bold reminders of all three government branches on every side. And we prayed. It is a modern-day bowing to the Lord based on a first-century text that still points us to the top priority of any citizen of heaven who is temporarily also a citizen of an earthly nation:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  1 Timothy 2:1-4

No anger was shown. No bullhorns were used. No placards were waved at cars passing by. Just prayer. Peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified.

Thanks to Juin Killingsworth, who heads up the National Day of Prayer throughout Maryland and also to Mitch Ekstrom for diligently coordinating the Annapolis meeting each year. And may we not stop praying for America and our leaders to repent and turn to God.

baltimore protestYou’ve seen the riots. You’ve heard the news conferences. The past week in Baltimore has been marked by the tragic death of a 25-year-old man triggering protests that have been building for decades. And now the marches are spreading across the nation. Disenfranchised communities are speaking out and have a large megaphone available with hundreds of microphones and cameras pointing directly at them. They’re angry and everyone seems to be trying to put their collective fingers on the reason why. But, as is so often the case, fingers are landing on the wrong answers.

We need more jobs. We need better schools. We need economic opportunity. We need the police to stop profiling.

In other words, our government has failed us.

The political solutions are complex, there’s no question about that. But the conclusion that government is the ultimate answer fails to go deep enough. But going deeper for answers will cost us something as a society.

  • It will cost time – The real solution will not happen overnight. Actually, since we have rejected the real solution for so long, the time to undo the damage would take years. How many? I don’t know, but many.
  • It will cost will – We (by that I mean a lot of us who want positive change) would really have to want this. Enough to accept a major shift in thinking and action.
  • It will cost submission – People would have to subject their natural inclinations to the will of someone else.

I see news reports that show churches and faith-based groups trying to serve during these protests. Prayer circles are forming. Food and water are being shared. This is good, but a larger message, a deeper message must also be sent. Not a temporary message of help during a city’s outrage, but a life-changing message that will last for eternity. Baltimore, and everybody else, needs to hear:

It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
    than to trust in princes.   – Psalm 118:8, 9 –

Quit looking to government to ultimately help with all our problems. Turn to God and His ways. His Son, Jesus, offers the answer to our most foundation need of forgiveness and acceptance.  His Word holds answers to solving the confusion and chaos in our world. Submitting to Him and His plans will heal families. Parents will be more likely to stay together, kids will be happier, families would be stronger and communities healthier. That would immediately alleviate some of the economic woes, but again, the political answers would still have to be grappled with. But if citizens and lawmakers were committed to God and His path first, better answers would be found by our leaders.

Statements like this one by New Orleans Saints’ tight end, Benjamin Watson, must be heard and embraced. I hope you’ll read it. And keep praying for Baltimore (and everywhere else).

benjamin watson

family mealMaryland has a ninety-day session every year. Even in that amount of time, the challenge of keeping the priority of family in balance with the tremendous workload of the busy session can be daunting. On the other hand, there are some over the years who have intentionally chosen to neglect family responsibilities in order to pour themselves completely into their political aspirations (a reminder to pray for elected leaders to have the right priorities in their personal lives). This Baltimore Sun article sheds some light on the dilemma legislators face and how some are coming up with creative ways to meet the demands of marriage and parenthood while serving their constituents.

How should we look at this challenge? 1) Be thankful for those leaders who think this issue through and take seriously their first responsibility of caring for their family first; 2) Pray for those leaders who let family fall by the wayside while pursuing political advancement and 3) Be mindful of other states in which the legislative session is longer than Maryland’s (some are even year-round) or the geographical size is larger (allowing for less chance to return home).

All the many needs of a family must come first. Only with strong families can a society be healthy. That goes for governmental leaders, too.

But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.  1 Timothy 5:8

pulpitLast week, five Houston area pastors were told by the courts to produce sermons and other communication that referenced HERO (the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance). This law protects, among other things, the right of any man or woman to use whatever public restroom they want, depending on which gender they identify with. The mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, a lesbian herself, tweeted “If the 5 pastors used pulpits for politics, their sermons are fair game…” This brings up several thoughts here at Rotunda Reflections, since this has caused such a firestorm of criticism by many in the religious community.

Annise Parker Mayor of Houston

Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston

1)  The first thought was, “When (not if) this happens in Maryland, what will be the response of pastors and churches?” The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill last March (the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014) guaranteeing the same rights to transgenders. The governor signed it into law in May. California is the only other state with such a law on the books.

2)  Any fair-thinking person, liberal or conservative, should be able to see the unconstitutional nature of this subpoena of sermons. By the way, the original subpoenas were amended to demand the pastors produce speeches instead of sermons. This was surely due to the public outcry over the clear violation of the pastors’ first amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion. And isn’t a pastoral “speech” just a sermon anyway?

3)  Christians began immediately opining what they thought the pastors should do. It’s still early, but if Houston moves forward with the demand for these sermons (which are public anyway), those who follow Christ will have to come to terms at some point with what they believe – the dilemma of this issue may be in our backyard next. I’ve seen some believers say the pastors should comply and be grateful their sermons will be read. Others say defiance is the way to go. It’s not a cut-and-dried answer since the Scriptures give us both ideas relating to interfacing with government. Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13 speak of submission to governing authorities. Also, 1 Timothy 2:1, 2 point us toward an attitude of quietness and peacefulness regarding government relationships. But there are also examples of civil disobedience that clearly show there are times to refuse obeying government’s demands. The three Jewish youths disobeyed Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 3:12), Daniel prayed when it was forbidden by Darius’ decree (Daniel 6:7-10), and Peter and John kept preaching when they were commanded to stop (Acts 4:18, 19). So, which is it? Quietly submit or defy authority?

I would lean toward the latter, but not necessarily because of the examples above. Each of these examples were fairly extreme and don’t have a direct parallel to the Houston case. But for American Christians under the rights and privileges of the constitution, there seems to be a biblical precedent to stand up here. Paul, on several occasions, appealed to his status as a Roman citizen when his freedoms were threatened. And freedom of religion is such a basic right of those in our nation, it would be wrong to quietly let that right erode in small increments (because it won’t happen in one big reversal). Just as Paul reminded rulers of his rights and forced leaders to acknowledge them, we have a biblical and constitutional responsibility now and for generations to come to refuse our government’s inappropriate erasing of those rights.

The other part of this equation is that there may be consequences to pay for refusing the demands of government. Will we see the day that pastors are fined or jailed for preaching against homosexuality and same-sex marriage? I pray not. Even those who champion the homosexual agenda in America should fight against forcing anybody to think and act only as the government tells them to. Our core values and freedoms are at stake now. Let’s prayerfully move forward with a desire to submit, but be ready to challenge if that’s what we’re called to do.

So, if my sermons were subpoenaed, I would definitely pray hard, prepared to refuse Caesar’s overreaching and suffer whatever consequences might come.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs often as we focus on praying for our leaders, we should also think of those who serve on their staff as well. Those who surround leaders in their offices are crucial to their success. In Acts 13, the proconsul Sergius Paulus had a counselor who tried to block the gospel from getting to him. It matters who is on the staff of our leaders.

Take some time to read this short article about two of my favorite Chiefs-of-Staff in Annapolis. I love these ladies and enjoy every time I visit their office. As busy as Andi and Katlyn are, they are always warm and kind when I come by. Let the article remind you how to pray for these key people in our government as they serve with much passion in the middle of so much pressure.

Click here for the article.

stressWe often pray for our leaders’ wisdom and guidance, but personal issues should  also be our concern. This is a good reason to become Facebook friends with them or follow them on Twitter, because they may post more everyday items that can inform our prayers for them.

I was reminded of this today when I saw a Facebook post from a Maryland state delegate stating that she would need an “extended absence from work” due to a physical condition that is exacerbated by stress. Her comments were full of hope since she is a woman of faith and her care for her constituents was evident. She ended her notice by saying she coveted the prayers of her friends. May we not fail any of our leaders by forgetting to pray for them.

Physical problems are important for us to be aware of even as we are so aware of the spiritual nature of our prayers according to 1 Timothy 2:1-4. But don’t forget to pray for the stamina needed in their busy positions to handle the inherent stress that comes with it.

We’re excited to unveil the new Maryland prayer blog from Capitol Commission! You can see it here. The Free State Prayer Slate will be still be up through the end of 2012, but you can begin using the new site now.

Let me encourage you to sign up on this new blog to get a daily or weekly email reminder to pray for your leaders. What a great tool to follow the biblical command to lift up our nation and leaders to the Lord. Also, take advantage of the links for each leader to get more information or contact them to let them know you prayed. The links include their website and email as well as ways to connect by Facebook and Twitter.

Marylanders, we have no excuse not to pray as 1 Timothy 2:1-4 tells us. Sign up today for the email reminders!

In USA Today, you can find out if you live in a peaceful state. The Institute for Economics and Peace has ranked all 50 U.S. states according to “homicide rates, violent crimes, percentage of the population in jail, number of police officers and availability of small arms”. See where your state shows up in the report here.

As interesting as the rankings are, the Institute’s definition of peace caught my eye. For them, and most people in the world, the definition of peace is “the absence of violence”. That definition may work fine for a study in geographic social trends, but is a sad substitute for people’s everyday lives. You don’t have to have bullets flying around you to lack peace.

Finances, health problems, unruly children, broken dreams, job losses, divorce, depression, car issues – these and and a multitude of others take peace away every day. As a matter of fact, each of the problems just listed were mentioned to me in one day of visits with Maryland General Assembly members and staffers. Some were dealing with the situations just fine. Others were a mess. And none of the issues depended on the number of police officers nearby. Peace is not merely the absence of violence – it is the presence of Jesus Christ.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.  John 14:27

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus ChristRomans 5:1

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  Colossians 1:19, 20

As you pray for your leaders, pray that they will find true peace, not by the world’s philosophy, but through the one and only Prince of Peace.