Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Public Graduations and Public Prayer?

The month of June brings the warmth of the summer and will see the very longest day of the calendar year. Many so look forward to some much-needed time away from their jobs and spending precious time with their families in some special or unique place.

June also brings with it special moments in the lives of many younger people as they end a lengthy educational chapter in their lives. It is the culmination of years of patience, hard work and sometimes a great deal of money spent, especially on the upper end of the educational sphere.

But it seems that every year brings some major controversy when certain top-notch students are chosen to represent their fellow graduates at a planned school ceremony. These are given the title of class valedictorian.

This year there was a fuss at the Riverside School district in Lake City, Arkansas where the administration actually opted to not go through with a sixth grade graduation after a lone parent protested against prayer during the ceremony.  In another setting, the president of the 2013 graduating class of Lincoln County High School in Kentucky boldly continued a longstanding tradition of student-led prayer at the school's graduation ceremony despite efforts from at least six students to shut it down. One schoolmate has stated that he may consider legal action.

But one of the more famous controversies this season came when valedictorian Roy Costner IV in South Carolina ripped up his graduation speech and prayed the Lord's Prayer. Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly said that America's Christians have a new hero who symbolically got right into the faces of the secularists who want to keep Jesus out of public schools.  Kelly said, "It says something about the country that we live in now that it takes courage for you to recite the Lord's Prayer at a seminal moment in your life."

Any look at early American history shows that the nation itself was born in a prayer meeting. And we all know how prayer is no problem at all, and even encouraged, when any major disaster strikes like the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma. At these moments, even those unfamiliar with any form of prayer seem to try and even covet prayer from those who practice it as a lifestyle. And then of course there is the installation of the nation’s leader in January. It is a national political spectacle that includes prayer and then is followed the next day by an official and massive public prayer meeting in the nation’s capitol. But a simple quoting of the Lord’s prayer at a graduation is unacceptable, distasteful and somehow even dangerous? How utterly silly and beyond hypocritical.

So just what does the Bible suggest concerning prayer as part of the Christian faith? It must be remembered always that prayer cannot be separated from the life of a true child of God. In Philippians 4, we read, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." Then too, 1 Thessalonians 5 states, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."

We also need to note just two clear biblical examples on the subject. In the Old Testament, Daniel was forbidden to pray publicly or privately to God. He boldly ignored the official ruling and was slated for execution for doing so. Most know the end of the story. The God he served and obeyed miraculously delivered him from certain death and thereby made a huge public statement to the people and anti-prayer rulers of that day.

Then in the New Testament we see the story the apostles in Acts 5. They, too, were in hot water for preaching the name of Jesus in public. The passage gives the details. “And the high priest asked them, saying, 'Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!' But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" Man's law was not to supercede God's no matter what the consequences might bring!

Those who oppose prayer may want to consider some of its obvious benefits. An example would be seen in 1 Timothy chapter 2. "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." Prayer tends to support and encourage leaders for good while promoting peace – for all! And if there is a verse to close the issue with it would have to be the one found in James 5:16. "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much."

Perhaps those who protest prayer at America's graduations, or in any other public forums, should reconsider what the fervent prayer of God's righteous people has done for their nation and thus for they themselves! It has helped provide them a lifestyle that is still the envy of the world. It has given them amazing security and nearly unlimited blessings. And it has even provided the rare freedom to protest the results of the Christian-based prayer that has benefited them more than they may ever know.

Maybe they need to go back to school for a time and use the Bible as their text. Maybe they would even discover the purpose, power, promises and prosperity associated with the act of fervent prayer directed to the God upon which their great nation was founded! What a blessed national graduation that would be!

Bill Breckenridge

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

“Truth, Justice and The IRS Way” ?

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury and is responsible for collecting taxes and the enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code. The first income tax was assessed back in 1862 to raise funds for the American Civil War with a rate of 3%. Today the IRS collects over $2.4 trillion each tax year from around 234 million tax returns.

But just recently, the United States Internal Revenue Service was found to have targeted certain conservative or religious groups who had applied for tax-exempt status based on their names or political beliefs. The ‘flagged’ organizations were required to provide extra documentation which was nearly impossible to comply with and beyond what is required. Some were actually asked what books their members were reading and what they had posted on social networking websites. Some organizations were informed that if they did not provide the information sought, they would not be certified for tax-exempt status.

Incredibly, The Coalition for Life of Iowa was asked to explain how all of their activities, including the prayer meetings held outside of Planned Parenthood, were considered educational as defined under 501(c)(3). They were asked to explain in detail the activities at these prayer meetings and to provide the percentage of time the group spends on prayer as compared with other activities of the organization.

Then too, certain conservative and religious-based organizations have been audited at a far greater percentage because of their political positions. To say these practices are beyond the line and responsibility of the IRS is a gross understatement! For many Americans this has further tarnished the reputation of an aggressive agency that already struggled with major trust issues. Some feel as though they are now living in a communist nation with a secret governmental police force doing whatever they are directed to – right or wrong.

In a nation with so many major problems, one would think that any organizations involved in prayer would be valued and not feared. But in modern-day America it has become those having morals and standards as based on biblical truth who are now feared and limited if at all possible. Everyone has their own set of standards and places where they personally draw the line so to speak.  The problem is that any personal line is just that. It is personal and therefore is limited to flawed views of sinful and imperfect men and women.

There needs to be consistent and correct lines drawn in a society’s sand at the highest level. That standard is God’s alone and the one clearly laid out in His word. Unfortunately, a secularized society no longer desires or accepts that.  But much of the nation has come to the place where Israel of old did back in Judges 17:6. “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” That led to cultural chaos then and still does today.

The unwarranted and illegal intrusion of the IRS into to personal beliefs and practices may also remind some Bible students of a time when all hearts and lives will be fully explored. But in that case it will be for the right reasons, with the right authority and by the One who has the only right to do so. Hebrews 4:13 records that reality. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.”

For some, the thought of giving God a detailed account of their lives is scary news – far more than being audited by the IRS. But for others, their spiritual audit will be good news with the reason being recorded by the writer John. “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)

Hopefully, the IRS will experience a good and serious house cleaning. But of far great importance for everyone, taxpayer or not, is a thorough ‘heart cleaning’ through Jesus Christ who is both our spiritual auditor and our eternal Advocate!

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:-9)

Bill Breckenridge