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Today's Bible Passage

 Meditation

Paul has embarked upon his last journey. Two things must have lifted his heart. One was the kindness of a stranger, for all through the voyage Julius, the Roman centurion, treated Paul with kindness and consideration that were more than mere courtesy. He is said to have belonged to the Augustan Cohort. That may have been a special corps acting as liaison officers between the Emperor and the provinces. Julius must have been a man of long experience and with an excellent military record. It may well be that when Paul and Julius stood face-to-face, one brave man recognized another. The other uplifting thing was the devotion of Aristarchus. It has been suggested that there was only one way in which Aristarchus could have accompanied Paul on his last journey and that was by enrolling himself as Paul’s slave. 
 
It is considered probable that Aristarchus chose to act as the slave of Paul rather than be separated from him—and loyalty can go no further than that.
 

Life Application

Are you willing to be like Aristarchus in someone’s life? Only you can decide that. Look around you and you will find more than one, no doubt.
 

Praise and Prayer

“Dear God, how thankful I am that I know You will go with me where ever I may have to go. Make me a personal friend like Aristarchus to others. Thank You for Your love. Amen!”

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NEW YORK - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic is profoundly affecting peace and security worldwide.
 
“Collective security and our shared well-being are under assault on many fronts, led by a relentless disease and abetted by global fragilities,” Guterres said. “Our challenge is to save lives today while buttressing the pillars of security for tomorrow.”
 
The U.N. chief addressed a virtual high-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the effect of the pandemic on peace and security. More than 10.5 million people worldwide have been confirmed to have COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“The consequences can be seen even in a number of countries traditionally seen as “stable,” he said. “But the impacts are particularly apparent in countries already experiencing conflict or emerging from it and may soon engulf others.”
   
Guterres said tensions are rising as a result of the severe socioeconomic fallout of the health crisis and the erosion of public trust in countries where the people feel the response has been ineffective or lacked transparency.
 
With some 100 armed conflicts raging around the world, peace processes are at risk, particularly if the international community is not fully engaged.
 
“In other places, conflict actors — including terrorist and violent extremist groups — see the uncertainty created by the pandemic as a tactical advantage,” Guterres said.
 
He noted that in many places, health care workers and humanitarians who are aiding the sick and those impacted by the virus have been targeted for attack.
 
Guterres warned of growing signs of authoritarianism, including restrictions on the media, civic space, and freedom of expression, as well a rise in hate speech and an “epidemic” of online misinformation.
 
“Populists, nationalists, and others who were already seeking to roll back human rights are finding in the pandemic a pretext for repressive measures unrelated to the disease,” he cautioned.
 
Guterres said these wide-ranging risks require an urgent and united response, including from the Security Council, and he welcomed their endorsement Wednesday of his call for a global cease-fire to support the coronavirus response.

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Amid a global pandemic, a glimmer of hope: The Democratic Republic of Congo has officially beaten its tenth Ebola outbreak, which raged for two years in the nation’s volatile east. As top international health officials welcomed the news, they noted lessons learned in the Ebola battle that can be used to fight the coronavirus, which they say is surging on the continent.

The tenth Ebola outbreak in The Democratic Republic of Congo has ended after two years and the 2,300 deaths in the country’s east, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced Thursday. 

“Today is a joyous occasion. I'm delighted to celebrate the end of the Ebola outbreak in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. ... The Ebola response was a victory for science. The rapid rollout of a highly effective vaccine saved lives and slowed the spread of Ebola. For the first time, the world now has a licensed Ebola vaccine and effective treatments were identified that dramatically lower death rates when patients are treated early.”

But, he and other experts noted, other threats menace that country and the African continent.

Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, noted that as this epidemic has ended, the coronavirus pandemic is growing in Africa. Congo has more than 6,000 coronavirus cases. The continent’s coronavirus epicenter, South Africa, this week surged past 100,000 cases.

And, Moeti noted, Congo still has an Ebola outbreak, just in a different place; and other diseases are also menacing the population.

“The new Ebola outbreak in Mbandaka, in Equateur province, in the DRC; along with measles outbreaks in the Central African Republic, in Chad, in the DRC as well, in South Sudan and other countries; and an increase in malaria in some countries in Southern Africa compared to last year; are all reminders of the need to ensure continuity of essential health services for other life-threatening conditions while at the same time-fighting Covid-19," said Moeti.

She noted there are now more than 332,000 COVID-19 cases on the African continent and 8,700 people have lost their lives.

But, she added, this difficult path has been paved with important lessons that could be applied to the new pandemic.

“One of the most important lessons that have been learned is the need to engage with, work with, enable communities to be knowledgeable, to be empowered, to play their role in different ways. I think that was one of the most important lessons to come out of the Ebola outbreak and it's extremely relevant for the Covid-19," said Moeti.

"Secondly, we've learned great lessons about how to innovate in the middle of a pandemic, how to learn, how to develop new technologies. The professor referred to the fact that at the same time as the response was going on there was work to discover new therapeutics, a new vaccine. ... And then thirdly, we have seen the importance of the resilience of health systems. So one of the lessons that I take away is that we must invest in health systems when we do not have outbreaks going on,” she added.

Moeti said that if Ebola can end, there is hope that other infectious diseases can also be vanquished. But, she stressed, the most important players are ordinary people. She urged everyone, in Africa and beyond: wear a mask, wash your hands, and take care.

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Today's Bible Passage 

Meditation

Beyond doubt, Ananias is one of the forgotten heroes of the Christian Church. If it is true that the Church owes Paul to the prayer of Stephen, it is also true that the Church owes Paul to the brotherliness of Ananias.
 
To Ananias came a message from God that he must go and help Paul; he is directed to the street called “Straight.” This was a great street that ran straight from the east to the west of Damascus. When the message came to Ananias, it must have sounded mad to him. He might well have approached Paul with suspicion, as one doing an unpleasant task; he might well have begun with recriminations; but no; his first words were, “Brother Saul.”
 
What a welcome was there! It is one of the sublimest examples of Christian love. That is what Jesus can produce. In Christ, Paul and Ananias, the men who had been the bitterest enemies, came together as brothers.

Life Application

If God had chosen you, do you think you could have acted like Ananias when he greeted Saul? Is there a Saul in your life? Learn from Ananias.

Praise and Prayer

My dear Father, I am so thankful for Your love that is shown in so many different ways. 
 
But the love that is shown from Ananias to Paul is so wonderful. It brought them together and it shows me that it is Your desire for Your children.
 
Father, I am so thankful for this scripture that tells me how much You love Your children and how You protect us. Please forgive me for any wrong choices I may have made and guide me for the rest of my life. I want to please You by doing what You ask of me.
Amen!”
 
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Thousands of Jews around the world are considering making what's called Aliyah. It's Hebrew for immigrating to Israel, partly to find shelter in a place that, as of Wednesday, has suffered few coronavirus deaths compared to other countries. While Israel has banned tourists from entering, it is allowing new immigrants. Linda Gradstein reports for VOA from Jerusalem

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WHITE HOUSE - Amid sustained nationwide street protests, U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order outlining some police reforms.

“Reducing crime and raising standards are not opposite goals,” Trump said in the White House Rose Garden before signing the document, titled “Safe Policing for Safe Communities.”

The order will encourage “police departments nationwide to adopt the highest professional standards to serve their communities. These standards will be as high and as strong as there is on Earth,” said the president.

The measure also calls for certification bodies to train officers on de-escalation techniques and use of force standards.

Another part of the order pushes for creating so-called co-respondent services, a system in which officers would pair with social workers when responding to nonviolent calls, by directing “federal funding to support officers in dealing with homeless individuals, and those who have mental illness and substance abuse problems,” said Trump. “We will provide more resources for co responders, such as social workers who can help officers manage these complex encounters.”

Trump did not address the linkage of systemic racism to police brutality, an issue cited by demonstrators across the country.

“The president’s weak executive order falls sadly and seriously short of what is required to combat the epidemic of racial injustice and police brutality that is murdering hundreds of Black Americans,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement, contending it “lacks meaningful, mandatory accountability measures to end the misconduct. During this moment of national anguish, we must insist on bold change, not meekly surrender to the bare minimum.”

U.S. opinion polls show there are widespread concerns among the public about brutal responses by law enforcement.

Trump administration officials have rejected the narrative that American law enforcement is endemically racist.

"Americans want law and order," said the president during his remarks Tuesday. "They demand law and order."

Before the Rose Garden event, Trump met with families of some of those who lost loved ones in deadly interactions with police.

“Your loved ones will not have died in vain,” said Trump in his remarks before signing the order. “I cannot imagine your pain or the depth of your anguish, but I will fight for justice.”

More sweeping overhauls to the nation’s policing are under consideration in Congress.

Proposals for police reforms come after three weeks of nationwide protests renewed by the death in police custody of George Floyd, an African American man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Floyd’s was the latest case to spark outrage at the use of force by police, especially against African Americans. Last Friday brought another with police shooting dead Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the issue Tuesday with testimony from law enforcement and civil rights officials.

The chamber’s Republican majority is crafting its package of proposals, which includes a ban on chokeholds and increased use of police body cameras.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the legislation “a serious proposal to reform law enforcement.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Republican effort does not go far enough.

“While the president has finally acknowledged the need for policing reform, one modest executive order will not make up for his years of inflammatory rhetoric and policies designed to roll back the progress made in previous years,” said Schumer.

“Unfortunately, this executive order will not deliver the comprehensive meaningful change and accountability in our nation’s police departments that Americans are demanding,” the Democratic lawmaker added. “Congress needs to quickly pass strong and bold legislation with provisions that make it easier to hold police officers accountable for abuses, and President Trump must commit to signing it into law.”

The Democrat-led House of Representatives is expected to vote sometime this month on its own package that includes a contentious provision that would make it easier to file civil lawsuits against officers.

Trump is standing by what is known as the qualified immunity doctrine. The doctrine protects law enforcement officers from lawsuits unless it can be proven they violated clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.

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Today's Bible Passage

ACTS 8:5-13

Meditation

When the Christians were scattered, Philip, who had emerged into prominence as one of the Seven, arrived in Samaria and preached there.  This incident of the work in Samaria is astonishing because the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9).  The quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans was centuries old.  
 
The fact that Philip preached there and that the message of Jesus was given to these people, shows the Church all unconsciously taking one of the most important steps in history and discovering that Jesus is for all the world.  We know very little about Philip but he was one of the architects of the Christian Church.  
 
We must note what Christianity brought to these people.  
 
  • It brought the story of Jesus, the message of the love of God in Jesus Christ.
  • It brought healing.  Christianity has never been a thing of words only. 
  • It brought, as a natural consequence, a joy that the Samaritans had never known before. Christianity radiates joy.

Life Application

Become a modern-day Philip and take Jesus everywhere you go because you live in a world of need. Jesus is still the answer!

Praise and Prayer

“Dear God, thank You for raising up people like Philip over the centuries. Now, please raise up new ones like him who will take the message of Your love to the world full of anger, bitterness, and broken hearts. Amen!"

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U.S. President Donald Trump is set to sign an executive order Tuesday on some police reforms, the goal of which a senior administration official said is “to invest more and incentivize best practices.” 

Briefing reporters Monday ahead of the signing, a senior administration official said the main piece will be creating certification bodies to train officers on de-escalation techniques and use of force standards. 

“We’re leveraging our ability to execute discretionary grants and prioritizing those police departments that take the time to get that credentialing,” the official said. 

Another part would push for creating so-called co-respondent services, a system in which officers would pair with social workers when responding to nonviolent calls, especially those involving mental health concerns and drug addiction issues. 

More sweeping overhauls to the nation’s policing are under consideration in Congress. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the issue Tuesday with testimony from law enforcement and civil rights officials. 

The chamber’s Republican majority is crafting its package of proposals, which includes a ban on chokeholds and increased use of police body cameras. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called the legislation “a serious proposal to reform law enforcement.” 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Republican effort does not go far enough, and that “now is the time to seek bold and broad-scale change.” 

The Democrat-led House of Representatives is expected to vote sometime this month on its own package that includes a provision that would make it easier to file civil lawsuits against officers who violate someone’s rights. 

The White House has signaled President Donald Trump would not endorse ending what is known as the qualified immunity doctrine.

Proposals for police reforms come after three weeks of nationwide protests renewed by the death in police custody of George Floyd, an African American man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota after an officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes. 

Floyd’s was the latest case to spark outrage at the use of force by police, especially against African Americans. Last Friday brought another with police shooting dead Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta. 

Protesters, organized by civil rights groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gathered outside the Georgia Capitol where lawmakers were returning to work after a coronavirus shutdown. More than a thousand demonstrators demanded lawmakers take up criminal justice reform, as well as voting issues, after last week’s election was marred by long lines at the polls.    

A few protesters came inside the Capitol, chanting in the building’s rotunda.    

Several Democratic state lawmakers, who are in the minority in the Georgia House and Senate, joined the protest Monday and said they are ready to act on calls for reforms. Republican House Speaker David Ralston told lawmakers Monday he wants to pass a bill to further penalize hate crimes, saying its passage is “just as important” as passing a state budget. The House has previously passed a hate crimes bill, but it has stalled in the Senate.        

Many Democrats are proposing an array of new legislation to reform policing practices, however, Republicans, as well as some Democrats, say there is not enough time to pass a big legislative package with only 11 days remaining in the lawmakers’ session following a lengthy coronavirus shutdown.          

Demonstrations also took place Monday evening in Washington’s Lafayette Park across the street from the White House to mark two weeks since law enforcement forcefully cleared a peaceful crowd shortly before U.S. President Donald Trump walked through the area for a photo opportunity at a nearby church.             

Also, Monday, the U.N. Human Rights Council agreed to hold an urgent debate on Wednesday “on the current racially inspired human rights violations, systematic racism, police brutality, and violence against peaceful protesters.” 

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ACTS 7:37-53

"This is the Moses who told the Israelites, 'God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.' He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us.   Read more.

Meditation

The speech of Stephen begins to accelerate.  All the time, by implication, he has been condemning the attitude of the Jews; now that implicit condemnation becomes explicit.  In this closing section of his defense, Stephen has woven together several strands of thought.  
 
(1st) He insists on the continued disobedience of the people.  In the days of Moses, they rebelled by making the golden calf.  In the time of Amos, their hearts went after Moloch and the star gods.  
 
(2nd) He insists that they have had the most amazing privileges.  They have had the succession of prophets; the tent of a witness, so-called because the tables of the Law, were laid up and kept in it; the Law that was given by angels.  These two things are to be side by side-continuous disobedience and continuous privilege.  Stephen is insisting that the condemnation of the Jewish nation is complete because although they had every chance to know better, they continuously rebelled against God.  
 
(3rd) He insists that they have wrongly limited God.  They had finished up with a Jewish God who lived in Jerusalem rather than a God of all people whose dwelling was the entire universe.  
 
(4th) He insists that they have consistently persecuted the prophets and-the crowning charge-they have murdered the Son of God.  Stephen does not excuse them for the plea of ignorance as Peter did.  It is not ignorance but rebellious disobedience that made them commit that crime.  There is anger in Stephen's closing words but there is also sorrow.  It is sorrowful to see people who refuse the destiny that God offers them.
 

Life Application

How readily do you respond to the Holy Spirit's guidance and conviction?  The time is short, and we must be ready for the Savior's call.
 

Praise/Prayer

Dear God, I believe that You want all Your children to be ready for the call to heaven.  The time is short and we must be ready.  Amen!"
 
 
 
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The United States has officially gone over the 2 million mark in total cases of novel coronavirus infections.

According to figures published Thursday on the website of Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource center, the U.S. now has 2,000,464 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 112,924 deaths, maintaining its position as the leading country with the total number of cases and deaths.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, predicted Wednesday night during an interview on CNN the nation’s death toll will nearly double by September.

“Most Americans are not ready to lock back down, and I completely understand that.” Dr. Jha said. “I understand people are willing to live alongside this virus. It means that between 800 and 1,000 Americans are going to die every single day.”

As many as 21 states have recorded their highest number of COVID-19 cases this week, with many concentrated across the western and southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.  The increases come amid a loosening of coronavirus restrictions in recent weeks, including the annual Memorial Day holiday that signals the start of the traditional summer vacation season.

The newest surge of infections has prompted local health officials in California to cancel the popular annual Coachella music and arts festival and the Stagecoach country music festival scheduled for October.  Both outdoor festivals were originally scheduled to be held in April but were postponed as the outbreak began spreading.

Experts also fear the ongoing nationwide protests sparked by the death of an African-American man in Minneapolis while in police custody will lead to another spike in COVID-19 infections.  Protesters have been captured on video walking shoulder-to-shoulder, although many of them were wearing masks.   

However, officials at the popular Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California, announced Wednesday they plan to begin a phased reopening of Disneyland and its sister theme park, Disney California Adventure, on July 17, the 65th anniversary of Disneyland’s opening.  The entertainment giant also announced a phased reopening of its Orlando, Florida, theme parks, anchored by Walt Disney World, in mid-July.

The World Health Organization said Thursday the African continent now has more than 200,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 5,600 deaths.  Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Africa regional director, told reporters during a briefing at the agency’s headquarters in Geneva the pandemic is “accelerating” and will continue to climb until an effective vaccine is developed.  South Africa accounts for a quarter of all coronavirus cases with over 55,421 and 1,210 deaths.

WHO has already determined Latin America to be the world’s new hotspot for the coronavirus pandemic, with the latest figures raising the total number of cases in the region to well over 1 million, with over 70,000 deaths.  With 772,416 confirmed cases, Brazil is the most-affected country in the region and ranks only behind the United States on the overall global list of confirmed cases.

Following Brazil is Peru with more than 207,000 overall cases. Chile is in third place with 148,456 cases and Mexico is close behind with 129,184.

As of Thursday, there are a total of 7,394,801 confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide, with 417,022 deaths.

 

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