But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” Acts 18:12-15

Politicians have mishandled and misunderstood Scripture for millennia. The problem in the verses above arose as Paul ministered in Corinth, sharing the truth of God’s Word (apparently with great success), to the consternation of the local Jewish leaders. When they complained to Gallio, the governor of the district, he responded as many human leaders have down through the centuries. Namely, saying the message of this man is just words, nothing more.

gwen moore

Rep.Gwen Moore

Fast-forward to last weekend when Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to deliver a one minute address regarding the possible government shutdown. Her first sentence was an admonishment taken from Galations 6:7, but with a revision. She started by saying, “Mr. Speaker, ‘Be not deceived, the people are not mocked.'” When political leaders throw around biblical quotes with their own spin and rewording,they show that their attitude toward these sacred words are the same as any other words – words that exist for the purpose of making their political point. It cheapens the Word of God and relegates His Word on a level with all others. Now Rep. Moore may have a point that the decisions made in Washington might have repercussions later when the people have their say in the next election, but can she not find another way to drive that home other than perverting a serious verse of Scripture?

Paul before Gallio

Paul before Gallio

The seriousness of this verse is that it is God who will not be mocked, because He is the ultimate Judge in all things. He is the one to whom we are all accountable. If leaders are concerned mostly for what the people can do to them, then their fear is wildly misplaced. Also, she left out the end of the verse – “for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” (ESV)  God knows and keeps track of the millions of ways humans mock Him. One of those ways is not to take His Word seriously. Gallio did it. Today’s leaders do it still.

This serves as a reminder to us again to pray for these leaders, that they will be shaped by God’s Word rather than abuse it to obtain a favorable political outcome. Before you surf to another site, will you stop for a moment to pray for your local, state and federal leaders and for their worldview to be changed so they can clearly see God as He has revealed Himself?

roy costnerA video that is making its way around social media seems to be meeting with the approval of many Christians. In it, Roy Costner, the valedictorian of a graduating senior class in a South Carolina high school, stands to give his pre-approved speech, rips up the text and proceeds to share the importance of his Christian upbringing, including The Lord’s Prayer. All this despite the decision by the local school board to ban prayers from public meetings due to protests from atheists in the area. This resulted in applause from some in the crowd, drowning out most of the prayer itself.

I’m having a difficult time sharing the enthusiasm of fellow believers who give their approbation to this speech, calling it “courageous” or a blow to our enemies in our ongoing cultural battles. Christians have a responsibility to understand exactly what is happening here and respond. Based on the facts, here are three reasons I’m having a problem with this “prayer of protest”.

1) DECEPTION – It seems to me the atheists have the moral high ground in this situation. They worked within the system and shared their concerns. What does it say about a young Christian man who has his speech pre-approved, then discards it in favor of comments that are clearly against what he agreed to share? What does it say about Christian adults who cheer him on for his ambush of the administration? There are words that come to mind to describe actions like this, but “courageous” isn’t one of them.

2) THE NATURE OF PRAYER –  Right before Jesus instructs us to pray what has become to be known as The Lord’s Prayer, He revealed much about the place and motivation behind prayer:

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5, 6

There is a time and place for public prayer, no question. But is communicating with God something to be done as a protest? Even Daniel, who defied authorities who banned prayer, did not publicly protest. He continued his practice of prayer in his home. He was being told not to pray to God at all, which justified his civil disobedience, knowing that he would probably suffer consequences.

3) THE PRINCIPLE OF SUBMISSION TO AUTHORITIES – What is the goal of obeying governmental authorities?

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

Americans swagger. We just do. But it’s hard to swagger and submit. Yes, you have God-ordained rights, but so do others who disagree with you, whether they believe in God or not. The command to submit to the local school board in a public event would not have caused Roy to sin. Using prayer as a “statement” does not meet the purpose of prayer.

Truthfully, I’m still thinking this through, but my spirit did not rejoice when I saw this video. If there’s something I’m missing, please comment and let me know why.

good and evilSeveral days ago, after the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were hunted down, I shared these verses as a Facebook status:

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  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. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.    Romans 13:2-4

One comment a friend made under the status wondered what happens when the government and people of a nation call evil good and good evil. It’s the natural question that is begged when we read these verses. Things clearly do not always play out as they should.

The reason I shared the verses that day was because there had been a criminal act committed and as the suspects were being chased, more criminal acts were layered on top. The governing authorities had to use deadly force to deal with the suspects, killing one and severely injuring another who was eventually arrested. This was an example of God-granted governmental authority to “bear the sword” to bring judgment to those who do wrong. Simple as that. We should be grateful for law enforcement officials who carry weapons, sometimes actually using them to maintain safety and peace for our society to operate as it should.

But what about laws and leaders that do not reward good behavior, but elevate evil as something that is right? The verses from Romans 13 paint a picture of civil government as it ought to be, not as it always will be. In this passage, Paul calls on all to submit to governments, since they are God’s servants for our good. This is written by a man who lived under Roman as well as Jewish rulership in the first century, which would ultimately give him a death sentence for spreading the gospel of Christ. Not all decisions by government will fulfill God’s intended role of upholding right and punishing evil. After all, governments are composed of humans. Sinful humans who are in need of God’s wisdom and guidance. Wisdom and guidance that are often rejected.

A glaring example of this is from today’s headlines – President Obama’s speech this morning at Planned Parenthood’s 75th anniversary gala. Our government in America has sanctioned the destruction of millions of lives, many snuffed out by this organization. Not only do we have laws that allow this killing of innocent life, but we pay for it – our tax dollars funded Planned Parenthood with $542,000,000 in 2012 (that’s $61,836 an hour 24/7/365). Not only do we fund it but our president proudly promotes the mission of Planned Parenthood, which performs 320,000 abortions a year, by giving a speech of appreciation and encouragement to continue the job.

The bombing at the Boston Marathon displayed sin, evil, the intentional taking of innocent human life and a despicable devaluing of personhood. These very words may even show up in media reports as they describe the atrocity and follow-up on the victims’ stories. But what we won’t hear are the same words used to describe the work of Planned Parenthood and other abortion doctors who deserve to be characterized the exact same way. And we’ll never hear a follow-up on the victims.

What are we to do and how do we look at Romans 13? Prayer for the spiritual awakening of our leaders and nation is always the first step (1 Timothy 2:1-4). We should also pray for, work for and vote for people who know what good really is and what evil really is. Government cannot and will not carry out true justice until we have leaders who can tell the difference.

praying manToday at the Ligonier Ministries’ blog, David Robertson shares some thoughts on citizenship and prayer. Click here to read his argument that prayer for leaders is not a passive cop-out, but a biblical exercise with great power.

His text (1 Timothy 2:1-4) is also the basis for Capitol Commission’s prayer website, Pray1Tim2, which lists office holders each day as reminders to pray. You can sign up for daily or weekly emails for your state (all 50 are available). Click here to find a specific state’s leaders to pray for today!

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.

ben carsonThis past week’s annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington featured a speech that is gaining some popularity and is showing up in followup comments and interviews in many media outlets. Dr. Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, gave a speech that is not only being shared and posted by many on social media, but has some calling for him to run for president in 2016.

If you have heard or read the speech and got excited about it, it’s because you agree with his political solutions to America’s challenges. How do I know that? Because that’s all he talked about. At a prayer breakfast. No, I’m sorry THE Prayer Breakfast. The words that have ignited such enthusiasm in so many have left me wanting more. Much more.

Click on the link here and see for yourself. Dr. Carson is a well-known Christian who has a tremendous testimony. His comments in this speech were fine and even inspiring to those who agreed, but the venue was completely wrong, which is what’s wrong with what passes for prayer breakfasts these days.

He began with four Old Testament Bible verses which were never explained or revisited. I’m still not totally sure how they fit the speech. It would be refreshing if we could get speakers at prayer breakfasts to try to understand what God would want to say from His Word to the listeners rather than decide what must be said then make some lame attempt to find verses to bolster his views (which these didn’t), mention them briefly, then ignore them. 

The rest of the speech centered on the importance of education (with some autobiographical paragraphs from his impoverished childhood and the evils of sports being elevated over academics), the national deficit, the overburdened taxation system, and solutions to health care. Jesus is mentioned once – only as a model of the One who explained things in parables, which Dr. Carson then attempts to do, ineffectively.

God is only mentioned in the section on taxation as the One who established the principle of the tithe (in other words, a flat rate system.)

I love Ben Carson. I love his story and his bold faith. It’s great that he has so many platforms to share his views. I just can’t understand why, at a prayer breakfast, he would almost completely avoid talking about spiritual things. That’s my disappointment. That’s where it fell short for me or maybe I don’t understand what prayer breakfast speakers are supposed to do. If so, let’s quit calling them “prayer breakfasts”.

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!

My colleague, Ron Bigalke, with Capitol Commission Georgia, offers this prayer on this election day. Thanks, Ron, for pointing us to the cross on this important day.

“Lord God, thank you for your grace—received through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—which allows Your people to call upon You in prayer.

Lord God, I have prayed for my own discernment as to Your will and purpose, and I also pray that You would grant discernment to the unbelieving community. I pray that what is right would be so evident that even unbelievers would vote using wisdom and would demand honesty and uprightness from their elected officials.

Lord, in the name of Jesus, may the citizens of our nation become so weary of sin and degradation among our leaders that they will seek godly leaders to represent them on every level of government. Give such leaders favor with the public and the media.

Help your people to recognize that as we work upon immortal minds and fill them with the wisdom of Your Word—with the just reverence for You and the love of our fellow citizens—that we labor for that which is eternal.

Lord God, help us not to regard Your providence in our nation with a careless attitude. We appreciate not only the right but also the privilege to vote. I pray that I, in addition to others, will use that privilege wisely by seeking Your will in considering the qualifications of those for whom we vote. I pray for the body of Christ that all would understand the right to vote as a gift from You and to avail themselves of every opportunity. May there arise such an expression of righteousness in our electoral system that it would affect every realm and level of government in our nation.

For those elected officials who lead in their communities and lead our states and nation, may you surround them with wise counsel: men and women of integrity who seek Your will and the good of this nation beyond their own, and whose motives are for that which you deem right.

I pray that You would grant saving faith in Jesus to our incumbents and candidates, and for those who do believe and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord God and Savior, that you would grant them Christlikeness, discernment, honor, integrity, knowledge, and understanding so that our nation may know stability internally and abroad.

I give thanks to You for those who desire to serve. Lord God, I praise You alone as sovereign because You alone rule over all, and You alone are able to defend and keep us. I praise You that these times are under Your sovereign control, and that the king’s heart is like channels of water in Your hands (Prov 21:1). I give thanks for our current leaders and our new officials, in accordance with Your Word (since all those in authority are established by You to serve Your will and purpose).

I pray that You would bless the evangelistic and discipleship ministry to our Capitol communities, as your church seeks to reach them by Your grace and for Your glory. I thank You for blessing that ministry and thereby working in and through our leaders, so that we may have peaceable lives in godliness and honesty.”

Have you noticed that attacks on Christianity don’t seem to let up?  Even in America, the home of the free, every group other than Christians either get a free pass or get openly promoted. And the Christian church’s response? Usually, it’s a call to make the world change.

Funny, the Bible doesn’t tell us to do (or even expect) that.

“If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  John 15:20

“All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”   2 Timothy 3:12

“Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”   Acts 14:22 

“You yourselves know that we are destined for [these afflictions].”      1 Thessalonians 3:3

There are dozens of other verses.

The first-century church stands in stark contrast to the American Christian attitude that we deserve better treatment than what our culture is giving us. When Jewish leaders demanded that Peter and John should stop teaching in Jesus’ name and authority, these two men went back to the church and reported it. These believers stood at the same crossroads you and I do when we’re wronged by our society. What to do?

They (as a solid biblical example for all believers in all time periods under all human authorities) prayed. Look at the content of this prayer very carefully:

“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

   “‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
   and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves,
   and the rulers were gathered together,
   against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.  And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:24b – 30

Key thoughts in this prayer are acknowledging the control of God; admitting that it is normal for human leaders to “gather together against” the Lord; asking God to allow the gospel ministry to continue to be spread in the midst of the persecution (not necessarily the removal of it).

Maybe most significantly is the belief expressed that God superintends the thoughts and actions of governmental leaders (even evil ones) to carry out His will. Pilate and Herod committed gross sin in the unfair treatment and murder of Jesus, yet these early Christians knew this sin was predestined by the Lord to bring about His purposes. In the same way the threat to Peter and John by the Jewish rulers was somehow in His plan. This prayer displays a huge amount of faith and strength. But it is a faith placed first on God Himself rather than human effort to derail the persecution.

American Christians today should warm up to the idea that as bad as things are in our world and as uncomfortable as this culture may make us, that could be the very thing God wants to happen. There’s no need to be surprised at this treatment.  It was promised.  It’s what we signed up for. Our prayer should be that the good news of salvation in Christ can be shared in the middle of all this mess.