Acts 13:26-52

26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:

“‘You are my son;
today I have become your father.’

34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said,

“‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’

35 So it is also stated elsewhere:

“‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’

36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you:

41 “‘Look, you scoffers,
wonder and perish,
for I am going to do something in your days
that you would never believe,
even if someone told you.’”

42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:

“‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

New International Version (NIV)

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The Supreme Court Expands the Scope of Religious Free Exercise

Mark Silk | Religion News Service | Thursday, July 2, 2020
The Supreme Court Expands the Scope of Religious Free Exercise


(RNS) — In a closely watched case handed down Tuesday (June 30), the Supreme Court took another step in expanding the scope of religious free exercise in America. It looks as if it won’t be the last.

The case, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, concerned a state program that provided scholarships for use in private schools. Because Montana’s Constitution has since statehood barred direct or indirect public subsidies of religious schools, several parents were denied the opportunity to use the scholarships to send their children to a Christian school.

The parents sued, and in due course the Montana Supreme Court threw out the entire program for failing to indicate that the scholarships could not be used in religious schools. In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Montana’s no-aid constitutional provision violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

With the four liberals dissenting, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court’s conservative majority. His argument turns on sharply differentiating “religious status” from “religious use,” the idea being that religious schools as a class cannot be denied public benefits but that specific kinds of religious instruction can be.

Two prior cases are critical to this distinction. In Locke v. Davey (2004), the court decided that a student in the state of Washington could not use a state scholarship to pursue a devotional theology degree. In Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (2017), the court decided that a Missouri church could apply for a state grant to resurface its outdoor playground. Roberts’ claim was that Espinoza is equivalent to Trinity Lutheran, not Locke.

The liberal justices weren’t buying and neither (despite formally joining Roberts’ opinion) was conservative Neil Gorsuch. “Not only is the record replete with discussion of activities, uses, and conduct, any jurisprudence grounded on a status-use distinction seems destined to yield more questions than answers,” wrote Gorsuch in a concurrence. “Does Montana seek to prevent religious parents and schools from participating in a public benefits program (status)? Or does the State aim to bar public benefits from being employed to support religious education (use)?”

In dissent, Stephen Breyer pointed out that in its 2012 Hosanna-Tabor decision the court for the first time recognized a ministerial exception to employment discrimination law precisely because “some teachers at religious schools see their work as a form of ministry.” If teaching is a ministry, how can having the state underwrite education in a religious school not constitute paying for religious instruction a la Locke? And if it is paying for religious instruction, wouldn’t that run afoul of the First Amendment’s establishment clause?

For Clarence Thomas, the original sin in the court’s modern religion jurisprudence came when the establishment clause — originally designed to let the states have their own religious regimes — was “incorporated” (federalized) in 1947. “Properly understood, the Establishment Clause does not prohibit States from favoring religion,” Thomas wrote in a concurrence of his own.

According to him, under a proper interpretation of the clause, “robust and lively debate about the role of religion in government is permitted, even encouraged, at the state and local level.” The result of such debate could be, of course, that some states (and localities?) might decide to establish religion in any number of ways — such as by permitting state funding of theological education or by allowing teacher-led prayer in the public schools.

Thomas’ desire that the establishment clause be “dis-incorporated” has long been seen as an eccentricity on the court. Gorsuch just made it significantly less eccentric by signing on to Thomas’ concurrence. Put that together with Roberts’ willingness to read the precedents as he has and it’s a solid bet that the court will be continuing to expand the scope of free exercise for some time to come.

(The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service or Christian Headlines.)


Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Brian PIrwin

A Good Lesson


Acts 7:30, 32, 34

Does time seem to pass slower when you’re at school? You’re watching the clock, waiting for recess or the end of the school day, and the hands don’t seem to be moving at all. It can be hard to pay attention in school when you’re focused on getting out of class as quickly as possible. But remember: this is your learning time. Fill it up with everything you can possibly learn. Then you will be ready for whatever God calls you to do.

Jesus was thirty years old before he started his ministry. Before that, he was learning. Before Moses led God’s people out of Egypt, he spent forty years in the desert herding sheep—and learning. Your days may seem hard. Or maybe school seems long and boring. But don’t be fooled—these are important times of learning. God has a plan for you, and you want to be ready. Learn everything you can in school so that you will be prepared to work in God’s kingdom.

Dear Lord, Help me to use well this time while I’m growing up. Help me to get ready for whatever you ask me to do. Amen.