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  1. In a time of digital consumption, here’s how the church can lead the way on healthy media fasting.

    With 6.4 billion digital devices connected to the Internet at the end of 2016 and 20 billion expected to be online by 2020, consensus is growing that tech’s best feature may be its off switch.

    This week we entered Lent—a time for abstaining from the things that disconnect us from the divine, from God, from that which gives us life. For 40 days, we set aside distractions and vices in order to practice self-denial, focus on repentance, seek clarity in prayer, and pursue intimacy with God and others.

    For many, the smartphone has become the ultimate vice. We are living in a never-off culture, where the speed and gloss of our screens often makes the connection to those far away seem more interesting and urgent than the people and experiences right in front of us. It's happening to teens at prom, parents on soccer fields, and CEOs in boardrooms. Our energy, creativity, and time—perhaps the best of us—are being spent committed to screens.

    As Christians, we’re not exempt from this vice.

    In a Lenten reflection in The New York Times, Catholic María de Lourdes Ruiz Scaperlanda writes, “The question for me is not whether there’s a point to giving things up during Lent, but whether I should ever stop fasting from all that numbs, dulls, and deadens me to life, all of life, as it is today—the good and the bad. Fasting makes me willing to try.”

    This weekend we are invited to fast. The National Day of Unplugging and its guiding project, the Sabbath Manifesto, invites us to join their eighth observance from sundown Friday, March 3 to sundown Saturday, March 4. Sabbath Manifesto’s aim is not just to promote one day of unplugging from technology, but a lifestyle change, explains...

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  2. Experts weigh in.

    Concerns over “constant attacks in the media” and believers being “marginalized through the law” led International Christian Concern to include America on its religious freedom Hall of Shame list for the first time.

    Should the US be included on such lists? Here’s how experts weighed in. Answers are arranged on a spectrum from “yes” answers at the top to “no” answers at the bottom.

    “Persecution in the US isn’t comparable to overseas. Yet there have been too many Christians fired or sued, and too many negative court cases and laws, to miss a clear trend. Most governments don’t publicly declare their hostility toward religion; they use laws like zoning or employment to push it out of the public square. Religious freedom in the US is being pushed toward private expression.”
    ~Jeff King, president, International Christian Concern

    “Every country, including the US, should be included in global assessments of religious liberty or persecution of Christians. The US has only 4.4 percent of the world population, but 10 percent of all Christians. Yet it is highly unlikely that the US will soon be on any list of ‘most persecuted’ countries.”
    ~Todd Johnson, director, Center for the Study of Global Christianity

    “The US displays worrying trends on religious freedom due to secular intolerance, which tries to eradicate religion from the public domain. However, if we scored the US with our questionnaire for the World Watch List, it would certainly not rank among the 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian. The nature and intensity of persecution in those nations are at an entirely different level.” ~Frans Veerman, director,...

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  3. The Affordable Care Act put Christian insurance alternatives on the map. What happens to them when it goes away?

    Despite President Donald Trump’s executive order to begin dismantling Obamacare, a record number of Americans signed up for marketplace plans during the 2017 enrollment period, which ended Tuesday.

    Meanwhile, the number of Christians taking advantage of religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also reached an all-time high. As of January, well over 625,000 believers belong to health care sharing ministries—more than triple as many as when the Obama administration enacted the legislative overhaul of the health insurance market in 2010.

    Nashville videographer Matt Horvath joined Medi-Share last month, after leaving his employer’s plan when he started his own business. He and his wife settled on health care sharing—where fellow members pay a few hundred dollars a month to cover each other’s major medical bills—after they struggled to find major insurance carriers in their state that offered individual plans or affordable options through the ACA marketplace.

    Horvath and other members of such ministries (provided the organizations have been functioning since before the year 2000) are exempt from the ACA’s individual mandate, which penalizes Americans without health insurance. Days after Trump took office, adviser Kellyanne Conway indicated that the President would not be enforcing the mandate any longer. The eventual end to the individual mandate will do away with the need for a religious exemption.

    Between that announcement and Trump’s executive order urging agencies to ease ACA requirements, “it’s a pretty significant step,” said Anthony Hopp, spokesman for Samaritan Ministries. “Things are definitely in motion. But we anticipated that with Trump.”...

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