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Daily Devotion for July 4, 2011
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever.
An old favorite, "Love Lifted Me", sung by Kim Hopper and friends.
Prayer for the Morning
I bless you for the day you have made, Mighty Lord God, and pray that I may spend this day rejoicing in your creation. I pray for your Holy Spirit to fill me with the joy of my salvation, so that your light may shine through me into the world, that your honor and glory may be known to all people.
Remind me of your blessings, I pray, with every tribulation I may face, so that I may act with energy, forgiveness and love, ever mindful of the grace You have shown to me. Through Christ I pray,
Prayer for the Nation
Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage; I humbly pray that we may always prove ourselves a people who remember your favor and are glad to do your will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way.
Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought here from so many different lands and languages. Grant the spirit of wisdom those to whom we entrust with the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may demonstrate your praise among the nations of the earth. In times of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and days of trouble, do not let our trust in you fail; all which I ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, let me think about these things. What I have learned and received, let me do; and the God of peace be with us all.
Think of the day ahead in terms of God with you, and visualize health, strength, guidance, purity, calm confidence, and victory as the gifts of His presence.
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.~ Anne Frank
Acts 15:12-21 (ESV)
The Jerusalem Council 
And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,
I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.'
Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues."
Notes on the Scripture
In yesterday's Daily Devotional, we saw how difficult it was for the Jews to accept uncircumcised Gentiles as Christians. (See Genesis 17:1-14, where God required the Jews to circumcise male children.) But Barnabas and Paul are very persuasive.
The James who speaks the judgment of the Council is "James the Just", the leader of the Jerusalem church and first Bishop of Jerusalem, a man renown for his piety and goodness. Most scholars believe that James the Just was the same man as the apostle James (the Lesser). James accepts the converted Gentiles, but requires them to follow certain Jewish rules of conduct, such as abstaining from sexual immorality, "what has been strangled", etc. Although the first of these sounds reasonable enough today, the second is puzzling. To understand it fully, we must consider the major issue that underlies it: Where does modern Christian morality come from?
We take for granted certain moral precepts, but we should not. Consider murder. Other than the Jews, the concept that human life is sacred and that murder is immoral was practically unknown 2000 years ago. Most societies made it illegal to kill some people under some circumstances. In Rome, for example, one might be arrested and executed for killing a Roman citizen, but not a slave. And the same with theft, adultery, etc. Some people might be protected by law, but there was no sense that these actions were inherently "wrong", in and of themselves. A general moral code that applied to all humanity simply did not exist.
Christ himself was not primarily a moral teacher. Although he did give us several moral precepts, his principal message was one of forgiveness and salvation. The fundamental morality we follow comes from Judaism and the Old Testament, and Christ's limited teachings on morality were modifications of Jewish law, rather than a full moral code.
But the early Jewish Christians struggled with which of the laws they lived under were universal and which were superseded by Christ. Ultimately, church leaders would come to lean upon the Ten Commandments as the basic moral law and discard much of the rest of the Mosaic law, but this took time. The Jews of 50 A.D. were horrified by the immorality of eating bloody meat.
Our morals today are fundamentally Jewish. Both Christ and Paul clarified and added to the "Christian" moral code; but the whole concept was foreign to Gentile converts. And so James, who had to act quickly, picks out those practices of the Gentiles which were widespread and shocking to the Jews of Jerusalem.
Click here to see a larger version of the painting to the left. It is extraordinarily moving in its depiction of forgiveness of one who has strayed in the extreme.