The Day He Moved to Houston

It’s so hard to believe it has been 42 years. In July of 1973 Cecil O. Sewell moved his family from their comfortable home in Birmingham to a place where they knew no one. Sharon, Petie, and Melanie did not object, because they knew the move was not about a job, but a call. It was a call from God. Dr. Sewell accepted the call to be the second pastor at the College Park Baptist Church in Houston.

Something else was happening in Houston, just a couple of miles away. Two boys, ages 15 and 13, were playing tennis every day, going to the beach on weekends, and goofing off the way teenagers do. The one thing they didn’t do in the summer of 1973, or any other summer for that matter, was go to church. But their neighbors did. And their neighbors were two cute teenage girls.

The girls were not old enough to drive, so they rode a bus to church. And the church they happened to go to was the same church Dr. Sewell had just come to as pastor. The two boys were invited to ride the bus to church, but that didn’t have much appeal until they met the two girls. So they rode the bus, went to church, and met this young pastor from Alabama. A month later, the oldest boy talked to Mrs. Sewell after a Sunday School class. She led him to faith in Jesus, as he trusted Christ as his Savior. A few months later, he sat in Pastor Sewell’s office with his younger brother, as he too came to faith in Christ.

I will forever be grateful that the Sewells followed God’s call. I still talk to them, except for Melanie, who went home to be with her Savior two years ago. And I will forever be grateful for Dottie and Malinda, the teenage girls who invited those boys to church. And I will forever be grateful for the older brother, because he was/is my brother. Jim Denison would go on to become one of America’s premier scholars, pastors, and authors. But it was his witness 42 years ago that made the difference in my life.

I bet you have a similar story. God uses people to reach people. And God wants to use you today. There is someone you know who needs encouragement, wisdom, or just a hug. I know the value of a person answering God’s call on their life. And so on this day, I am especially grateful for a young pastor from Alabama who said yes to God’s call on his life and moved to a small church in a big city where he would made a giant impression. Yes, God uses people. God used Dr. Sewell in my life 42 years ago. And he is still using him in my life today. I am blessed to call him “Pastor.”

This Day in America – 1619

It is rare that we celebrate events from 396 years ago in a country that is 239 years old. But July 30, 1619 was no ordinary day. It was the day America elected her first leader. A full 113 years before the birth of George Washington, the father of our country, John Pory was elected assembly speaker in the Colony of Virginia. It happened in Jamestown, in the choir room of the local church. They called it the New World House of Burgess. Earlier that year, the London Company, which had established the settlement 12 years earlier, directed Virginia Governor Sir George Yeardley (appointed by England) to summon a “General Assembly” elected by the settlers, with every free adult voting. The 11 Jamestown boroughs produced 22 representatives who chose Pory as their first elected leader. On July 30, the House of Burgess (an English word for “citizens”) convened for the first time.

In addition to electing Master Pory, the assembly passed several laws, which required the confirmation of the London Company. These laws included one requiring tobacco to be sold for at least three shillings per pound, prohibition against gambling, drunkenness, and idleness, and a measure that made Sabbath Day observance mandatory. And with that, democracy was born in the New World.

We know that Mr. Pory was an administrator, traveler, and author. He is considered to be the first news correspondent in English-language journalism. He would explore Chesapeake Bay by boat in 1620. After his stint as assembly speaker, he returned to England, where is would live a life addicted to gossip and alcohol. But much of what we know of those early days in Virginia, we owe to John Pory, for he chronicled daily events in the Jamestown Colony in Virginia and later in the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts.

The democratic process is often called an “experiment.” But as we look to our future, let’s not forget our past. This American democratic experiment is not a mere 239 years old; it dates to this day in 1619 when 22 men gathered in a church choir room. They needed a leader, but this would not involve violence or manipulation. They took a vote. Master John Pory was elected, and democracy was born.

C. S. Lewis and the Problem of Pain

He called pain “God’s great unwanted gift.” In 1940, C. S. Lewis, the great mind of the last century, wrote The Problem of Pain. His words flew in the face of proponents of the prosperity gospel. We have all heard it. “By his stripes we are healed.” The famous words of Isaiah 53:5 are often and grossly misinterpreted. If they have it right, if Jesus’ death on the cross assures healing, why does anyone die? Every man or woman who honestly believes everyone can assuredly be healed by “his stripes” should visit and pray at every hospice care facility in America. They should stop at every hospital on their way home from work at the end of the day. C. S. Lewis knew pain, and he came to embrace it as the “unwanted gift” of God.

As a boy, Lewis experienced the death of his mother and the abandonment of his father. As a young man, he saw the ugliness of war. As a brilliant Oxford scholar, he suffered rejection from academic colleagues. As an older man who finally discovered young love, he endured the painful loss of his wife. He introduced The Problem of Pain, written at age 42, with an humble admission. The problem of pain, he said, fueled the atheist movement, and his acknowledgement of a God who allows pain and even uses it would present a problem for nonbelievers.

How could a loving, good, and powerful God coexist with suffering that is so pervasive? Theodicy, derived from the Greek words for “deity” and “justice,” refers to the attempt to justify the goodness of God in the face of manifold evil. Lewis asks, “If God is good and powerful, why does he allow bad things to happen?” Lewis takes issue with our terms good, loving, and powerful. He postulates that it is because God is indeed good, loving, and powerful that it is “abundantly clear” our view of these attributes “needs correction.”

Let’s summarize Lewis’ views on pain with a few simple summary statements. First, because God has created man with a free will, and because man often makes bad choices that result in pain, God cannot be blamed for such pain. Second, we must embrace a higher view of “good,” one that sees the bigger picture. It is because God is good that he allows pain that brings about repentance, correction, and life change. Third, pain removes our false sense of happiness, an illusion of self-sufficiency. Fourth, when pain is withdrawn, we tend to forget God and return to our own ways. The truth is that God does not care about our comfort nearly as much as he does our character. If one must be sacrificed, it will always be our comfort.

The person who is most susceptible to illness is the one who never feels pain. The person who is most susceptible to crowding God out of his or her life is the rich young ruler, not the woman caught in adultery. Paul said it is in our weakness that God becomes strong. Tony Evans correctly asserts, “When bad things happen, God either caused them or allowed them.” C. S. Lewis understood pain because he lived with it all of his life. I’m not suggesting pain is not a problem. I’m just suggesting it has a higher purpose that we must not miss. For many of us the bigger problem would be non-pain. It is my back pain that drives me to the medicine cabinet. And it is my heart pain, insecurities, and hurtful memories that drive me daily to my God. Pain is a problem, but it is also a gift – “God’s great unwanted gift.”

The Rushmore Report: Welcome to The Rushmore Report

Welcome to the Rushmore Report, the monthly newsletter of The Proud Americans. Four years ago, our founder, Jerrell Clay, launched this web-based ministry to influence America in three areas – God, family, and country. We are unapologetically Christian and proudly American, hence our name. We invite you to join the movement, as we seek to lead our nation back to her founding principles. We believe that the hope of the world is America and the hope of America is a spiritual revival. We pray daily for that revival to sweep our land.

After you read your August edition of the Rushmore Report, we hope you will join us in this exciting movement. Share the Report with your friends. And encourage them to read my daily blog at theproudamericans.org. One person can make a little difference. Together, we can be world changers. May God bless America as she once again blesses God. And may you be encouraged as you read our Report. It is a high honor to join you among the ranks of The Proud Americans!

Blessings,

Dr. Mark Denison

President – The Proud Americans

The Rushmore Report: Thank God for Answered Prayer

“O Lord, now I have heard your report, and I worship you in awe.” (Habakkuk 3:2)

If you want to hear God speak, then worship God. In other words, thank him for being a part of your life and for being interested in the details of your life. Thank him for answering your prayers. God gives you a vision. God gives you a dream. You know what God wants you to do, so now you thank him for answering your prayer. That’s part of worshiping God.

What I want you to do is to stop seeing your prayers as a monologue and start seeing them for what they truly are – a dialogue. Prayer is a conversation with God. God hears you when you pray, and he answers you when you ask questions. He wants to talk to you every day. If you will faithfully talk to God every day throughout the day, it will revolutionize your life.

Now, you can’t hear God until you know God, and there are three levels of knowing God – recognition, acquaintance, and friendship. You may be at the recognition level; you know God is there, but you don’t really know him. Or, you may be at the acquaintance level; you know God a little bit, but you don’t know him very well. God wants you to live at the friendship level. He wants to be your friend, and he wants you to be his friend. God wants you to talk with him all the time.

Talk It Over

Pray this prayer today: “Dear God, I’m amazed that you would want me for a friend. I really want to learn to have conversations with you. Help me to spend time with you every day. Thank you that you care about every detail of my life. Jesus, I want to know you more and more every day, and I want to depend on you for guidance in my job, my family, my future, and in every other area of my life. I invite you to be the manager of my life, my Lord and Savior, as I follow you and trust you. In your name I pray. Amen.”

About the Author

Rick Warren is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church, an evangelistic megachurch in Lake Forest, California, the eighth largest church in America. Warren is a best-selling author, whose books include The Purpose Driven Life. He is one of the preeminent Christian leaders of our time.

The Third Great Awakening – 1859

The Ongoing Effects of Revival

The effects of such an awakening are immeasurable. It resulted in the addition of approximately one  million converts to the churches of the United States. It added spiritual strength and material prosperity to a decadent Christian cause everywhere. Baptists added almost 200,000 to their numbers by baptism. The revival gave new importance to the work of laymen in churches. It encouraged good interdenominational relationships in ways that had never been encouraged before. It added a large number of young men to the ranks of gospel preachers and filled theological seminaries with those who had committed themselves to preach Christ. It also resulted in the formation of some new seminaries. The awakening gave the nation a badly needed moral lift. It tied the gospel with social work in a manner that had not been seen in this country before. It gave a boost to missionary giving and resulted in unusual missionary efforts during the War between the States. It prepared the nation for the blood bath it would soon experience in the war years of 1861-1865. It gave birth to the great revivals which swept the armies of the South during the days of the war. it softened the hardship of the period of reconstruction for the South. It continued in the work of later evangelists who labored until the end of the nineteenth century. [From When Heaven Touched Earth by Roy Fish, page 205]

The Revival of 1858 was easily the most unique awakening this country has ever experienced. Its beginning, its approval from almost every source, its spirit of cooperation, and its lack of emotional excess easily set it apart from other awakenings. It contained all the wholesome features of other awakenings and sifted out the questionable ones. Never before or since has evangelical Christianity received such widespread publicity or promotion from the public press. Ultimately, this awakening gave birth to a new era in evangelism and did not actually terminate until its force had been felt on three continents. [From When Heaven Touched Earth by Roy Fish, page 206-207]

Recruits for Ministry and Mission Field

The Awakenings of 1792 and 1830 onward had exerted a helpful effect on recruitment for ministry and missions, but denominations in North Ameerica had suffered for years, because the supply of new ministers was not equal to the demand. In 1858 it was predicted, “This general Baptism of the Holy Spirit, this wonderful turning to God on the part of the young men throughout the country, will multiply the number of candidates for the ministry, and give those who enter it a more entire consecration to the service of their divine Master.”

This prediction was fulfilled. An editor noted late in 1858, “The effects of the religious revivals of the present year has already seen an increase of students for the ministry.” Union Theological Seminary in New York reached a new peak in enrollment of students, drawing from the Middle Atlantic States and farther afield. Seemingly all denominational colleges, when they reopened in autumn 1858, reported greatly increased enrollment which they ascribed to the interest from the Great Awakening. Many of these students later enrolled in theological seminaries. [From The Event of the Century by J. Edwin Orr, page 299]

The Resurgence of Evangelism

One notable characteristic of the awakening was its short-term effect in bringing such very large numbers of adults to conversion. It was not that young folk were left untouched, rather that so many cases of conversion were occurring among both men and women in “maturity of life, heads of families, absentees from the sanctuary, those who had lived through many seasons of awakenings, and still remained destitute of religion.” So widespread in the churches was Horace Burshnell’s emphasis upon Christian nurture, and so prevalent was the expectation of seeing converts only among the young, that the denominations had virtually lost faith in conversion of adults as such. Now a lead article in The Watchman was insisting that “the large majority of converts in the powerful revival now sweeping over the land are of adult years.” Some were in late middle life and not a few advanced in old age, all being accessions of experience and maturity to the churches.

Of the converts, Sylvia Penn of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, wrote: “They are from unknown and the well-known; the fanner in his field, and the sailor on the wide sea; the princely merchant, and the humble artisan; the old man of three-score years, and the little child . . .” God’s grace could change the hearts of rich, poor, elderly, middle-aged, youth, farmers, bankers, merchants, clerks, statesmen, judges, housewives and servants, as easily as those of children. This was the lesson of the 1858 Revival. [From The Event of the Century by J. Edwin Orr, page 310]

Social Impact of Revival

Because of evangelical preoccupation with evangelism first, then social action, Unitarian “keepers of the social conscience” asserted that a true religion was not merely a spiritual experience to enjoy and a holy life to be lived. But the Evangelicals also had advocates of “self-sacrificing zeal in good works.” H. C. Fish rebuked big businessmen for consecrating pews but not  counting their houses.

Gilbert Seldes termed the 1858 Revival “a penitential outbreak after the panic” and wrote that it did not have any profound effect on the social and intellectual life of the American people. William Warren Sweet took exception to this uninformed opinion and declared that it was based on a too limited knowledge of the facts: “Out of the 1858 Awakening came the introduction of the Y.M.C.A. into American cities. It produced the leadership, such as that of Dwight L. Moody, out of which came the religious work carried on in the armies during the civil war. It gave impetus to the creation of the Christian and Sanitary Commissions and numerous Freedmen’s Societies (that were formed in the midst of the war). All benevolent enterprises flourished during the civil war, and the period saw charities on a larger scale than ever before. Though war always loosens purse strings, charitable giving at any time must depend chiefly upon people whose sympathies are the most touched by the sufferings of their fellowmen and, in the great majority of instances they are the ones whose hearts have been warmed by a divine flame.”

Timothy Smith also noticed that the churches were bettering the condition of the destitute and needy as well as giving them the Gospel message. Interdenominational societies as well as the local churches distributed food and clothing, found employment, resettled children, and provided medical aid for the poorer classes. From just a few before the Revial of 1857-58, the city missions increased to several hundred by 1860. It must never be forgotten that a great Civil War erupted within three years of the 1857-58 Revival. The energies of the nation were absorbed into military action or dissipated by civil disruption. To understand what the 1857-58 Awakening might have done, one has only look at the proliferation of the societies for social betterment in Britain following the 1859-60 Revival there. [From The Event of the Century by J. Edwin Orr, page 315-316]

About the Author

Roy Fish, Ph.D, served as Distinguished Professor of Evangelism and held the L.R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Fish was one of America’s most prominent experts and communicators in the field of evangelism for over 50 years. A best-selling author and pastor or interim pastor for over 20 churches, Dr. Fish died in 2012, leaving a legacy unmatched in his field.

The Rushmore Report: Advice on Same-Sex Marriage from a Canadian Pastor

In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states, setting off a flurry of reaction by Christians and virtually everyone else on social media and beyond. Ed Stetzer wrote a helpful background post to the shift in opinion that led to the decision and included links to a number of other leading articles in his post.

The social media reaction ranged from surprising to predictable to disappointing to occasionally refreshing. I write from the perspective of a pastor of an evangelical church in a country where same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for a decade. That does not mean I hold any uniquely deep wisdom, but it does mean we’ve had a decade to process and pray over the issue. I hope what I offer can help. It’s my perspective. My fingers tremble at the keyboard because my goal is to help in the midst of a dialogue that seems far more divisive than it is uniting or constructive.

There will be many who disagree with me, I’m sure, but I hope it pulls debate away from the “sky is falling/this is the best thing ever” dichotomy that seems to characterize much of the dialogue so far. The purpose of this post is not to take a position or define matters theologically (for there is so much debate around that). Rather, the purpose of this post is to think through how to respond as a church when the law of the land changes as fundamentally as it’s changing on same-sex marriage and many other issues.

Here are five perspectives I hope are helpful as church leaders of various positions on the subject as we think and pray through a way forward.

1. The church has always been counter-cultural. Most of us reading this post have been born into a unique season in history in which our culture is moving from a Christian culture to a post-Christian culture before our eyes. Whatever you think about history, theology or exactly when this shift happened, it’s clear for all of us that the world into which we were born no longer exists.

Viewpoints that were widely embraced by culture just decades ago are no longer embraced. For some this seems like progress. For others, it seems like we’re losing something. Regardless, things have changed fundamentally. But is that really such a big deal? For most of the last 2000 years, the authentic church has been counter-cultural. The church was certainly counter-cultural in the first century.

Even at the height of “Christendom” (whenever that was), the most conservative historians would agree that Christianity as embraced by the state was different than the authentic Christianity we read about in Scripture or that was practiced by many devout followers of Jesus. Being counter-cultural usually helps the church more than hurts it.

If you think about it, regardless of your theological position, all your views as a Christian are counter-cultural and always will be. If your views are cultural, you’re probably not reading the Scriptures closely enough. We’re at our best when we offer an alternative, not just a reflection of a diluted or hijacked spiritually.

2. It’s actually strange to ask non-Christians to hold Christian values.

As the Barna Group has pointed out, a growing number in America are best described as post-Christian. The majority of Canadians would certainly qualify as having a post-Christian worldview.

Why would we expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

If you believe sex is a gift given by God to be experienced between a man and a woman within marriage, why would you expect people who don’t follow Christ to embrace that? Why would we expect people who don’t profess to be Christians to:

Wait until marriage to have sex?

Clean up their language?

Stop smoking weed?

Be faithful to one person for life?

Pass laws like the entire nation was Christian?

Seriously? Why not?

Most people today are not pretending to be Christians. So why would they adopt Christian values or morals? Please don’t get me wrong. I’m a pastor. I completely believe that Jesus is not only the Way, but that God’s way is the best way. When you follow biblical teachings about how to live life, your life simply goes better. It just does. I agree, 100 percent.

I do everything I personally can to align my life with the teachings of Scripture, and I’m passionate about helping every follower of Christ do the same. But what’s the logic behind judging people who don’t follow Jesus for behaving like people who don’t follow Jesus? Why would you hold the world to the same standard you hold the church?

First, non-Christians usually act more consistently with their value system than you do. It’s difficult for a non-Christian to be a hypocrite because they tend to live out what they believe. Chances are they are better at living out their values than you or I are. Jesus never blamed pagans for acting like pagans. But he did speak out against religious people for acting hypocritically. Think about that.

3. You’ve been dealing with sex outside of traditional marriage for a LONG time.

If you believe gay sex is sinful, it’s really no morally different that straight sex outside of marriage. Be honest, pretty much every unmarried person in your church is having sex (yes, even the Christians).

I know you want to believe that’s not true. (Trust me, I want to believe that’s not true.) But why don’t you ask around? You’ll discover that only a few really surrender their sexuality. Not to mention the married folks that struggle with porn, lust, and a long list of other dysfunctions.

If you believe gay marriage is not God’s desire, you’re really dealing with the same issue you’ve been dealing with all along – sex outside of its God-given context. You don’t need to treat it any differently. By the way, if you don’t deal with straight sex outside of marriage, don’t start being inconsistent and speak out against gay sex.

And you may want to start dealing with gluttony and gossip and greed while you’re at it. At least be consistent . . . humbly address all forms of sex outside of marriage. The dialogue is possible. (Andy Stanley offers a great approach for sex staying inside marriage.) We have that dialogue in our church all the time. And people are grateful for it. We also talk about greed, gluttony, and hypocrisy as Christians. It’s amazing. Jesus brings healing to all these areas of life, including our sex lives.

4. The early church never looked to the government for guidance.

Having a government that doesn’t embrace the church’s values line for line actually puts Christians in some great company – the company of the earliest followers of Jesus. Jesus spent about zero time asking the government to change during his ministry. In fact, people asked him to become the government, and he replied that his Kingdom is not of this world.

The Apostle Paul appeared before government officials regularly. Not once did he ask them to change the laws of the land. He did, however, invite government officials to have Jesus personally change them. Paul consistently suffered at the hands of the authorities, ultimately dying under their power, but like Jesus, didn’t look to them for change. Rather than asking the government to release him from prison, he wrote letters from prison, talking about the love of Jesus Christ. Instead of looking to the government for help, Paul and Jesus looked to God.

None of us in the West are suffering nearly as radically as Jesus and Paul suffered at the hands of a government. In fact, in Canada and the US, our government protects our freedom to assemble and even disagree with others. Plus, it gives us tax breaks for donations. We honestly don’t have it that hard.

Maybe the future North America church will be more like the early church, rising early, before dawn, to pray, to encourage, to break bread. Maybe we will pool our possessions and see the image of God in women. And love our wives radically and deeply with a protective love that will shock the culture. Maybe we will treat others with self-giving love, and even offer our lives in place of theirs.

Maybe we’ll be willing to lose our jobs, our homes, our families and even our lives because we follow Jesus. That might just touch off a revolution like it did two millennia ago. Perhaps the government might even notice, amazed by the love that radical Jesus followers display.

5. Our judgment of LGBT people is destroying any potential relationship.

Even the first 72 hours of social media reaction has driven a deeper wedge between Christian leaders and the LGBT community Jesus loves. (Yes, Jesus died for the world because he loves it.) Judgment is a terrible evangelism strategy. People don’t line up to be judged. If you keep being ineffective at reaching unchurched people, keep judging them. Judging outsiders is un-Christian. Paul told us to stop judging people outside the church.

Jesus said God will judge us by the same standard with which we judge others. Paul also reminds us to drop the uppity-attitude; that none of us were saved by the good we did but by grace. Take a deep breath. You were saved by grace. your sins are simply different than many others. And honestly, in many respects, they are the same. People don’t line up to be judged. But they might line up to be loved. So love people. Especially the people with whom you disagree.

Those are a few of the things I’ve learned and I’m struggling with. The dialogue is not easy when culture is changing and people who sincerely love Jesus sincerely disagree. I think there’s more hope than there is despair for the future. The radical ethic of grace and truth found in Jesus is more desperately needed in our world today than ever before. Is the path crystal clear? No. But rather than being a setback, perhaps this can move the church yet another step closer to realizing its true mission.

About the author

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Church. He has just released his latest book, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations that Can Help Your Church Grow. Carey speaks to audiences around the world about change, leadership, and parenting, and hosts the top-rated Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast.

 

Same-Sex Marriage Ruling: What Now?

“The court now holds that same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry. No longer may this liberty be denied to them.” So stated Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in today’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage. He was joined by the court’s four liberal justices; each of the conservative members dissented and wrote their own opinions.

Here’s what we know: gay and lesbian couples are now able to marry in the four states named in the case – Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Michigan. There may be a delay in the remaining states with bans, since lower courts will need to apply the Supreme Court’s decision for them.

Did the court do the right thing?

The Supreme Court is empowered to interpret and apply the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere does the Constitution require the redefinition of marriage. Chief Justice Roberts stated in his dissent, “If you are among the many Americans – of whatever sexual orientation – who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate the decision . . . but do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”

The court applied its judgment rather than allowing the people to decide the issue. (Note that of the 37 states that had previously legalized same-sex marriage, only four did so through popular votes.) Those of us who believe life begins at conception consider the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling to be catastrophically wrong. Now the court has sided again with an activist agenda rather than with historic moral commitments. This decision renders marriage genderless and makes it primarily about the desires of adults rather than the welfare of children, families, and society.

What comes next?

Gay rights activitists have been following a decades-long strategy: normalize, legalize, and endorse. They began by normalizing same-sex relations through movies, television, and other media. Then they began working to legalize such relations through the courts. Now that they have seen their agenda ratified by the nation’s highest court, they are moving toward endorsement.

GLAAD President and CEO Kate Ellis responded to the court’s ruling: “We must not only advance policy, we must also accelerate acceptance of the LGBT community – because laws alone don’t end discrimination, people do.” The gay rights movement is also likely to address employment issues, seeking a federal law prohibiting hiring practices based on sexual orientation.

What will this mean for religious institutions?

During oral arguments on April 28, Justice Scalia asked Mary L. Ronauto, lead counsel for same-sex marriage, if clergy would be required to perform such ceremonies. She insisted that a constitutional right to gay marriage would not force clergy to perform gay weddings. Later, Justice Alito asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who was arguing on behalf of gay marriage, “Would the same apply to a university or college if it opposed same-sex marriage?” “It’s going to be an issue,” Verrilli answered.

Most legal observers believe that pastors and churches will not be forced to perform same-sex marriages. But what about a church facility rented for weddings? What about universities that offer married heterosexual students housing but not married gay and lesbian students? What about hiring practices and spousal benefits at faith-based hospitals and ministires? Will statements defending biblical marriage be considered “hate speech?” Will religious non-profits that support biblical marriage see their tax-exempt status threatened?

The ruling is fresh, the questions are many, and the answers are few. In light of today’s ruling, the Denison Forum wants to help you sort through the issues we face. I have written How to Define Biblical Marriage for this purpose, and invite you to download it from our website today. I hope it will help churches and believers understand and respond to this challenge with biblical perspective.

We do not yet know the implications of today’s ruling for religious organizations. In coming days, we’ll hear much more about policies ensuring that the government does not penalize those who uphold biblical marriage. Without such policies, the freedom of speech and religion are in question.

Is there good news?

Absolutely. God is still on his throne. Today’s ruling did not surprise him. And Christians have been in the minority before. Believers around the world are dying for their faith – according to John Allen, longtime Vatican journalist, 90 percent of all religious martyrs in the world are Christians. Believers in the first century and around the world today face challenges far greater than ours in America.

Here’s my advice: let’s wait to see how the debate regarding religious liberty evolves, then respond as needed. Let’s not assume persecution that is not yet a reality, but let’s also resolve to stand firm for biblical truth at any cost. If today’s ruling leads to oppression and worse, let’s join the apostles in “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

Whatever happens, let’s continue to engage the culture with biblical truth, offering light in a dark world. And let’s show the LGBT community God’s love in ours. Laws are temporal – souls are eternal.

About the Author

James C. Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on culture and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian “think tank” designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009. Dr. Denison writes a cultural commentary available at www.denisonforum.org/subscribe. His free daily commentary is distributed around the world to 85,000 subscribers in over 200 countries.

The Faith of Jeb Bush

by Dr. Mark Denison–

John Ellis Bush was an Episcopalian for the first 44 years of his life, following the tradition of his family. Better known as Jeb (his initials are J.E.B.), he was born in Midland, Texas, raised in Houston, graduated from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and earned a degree in Latin American affairs from the University of Texas. It was there that he married Columba Garnica Gallo, whom he had met during a foreign exchange trip in Leon, Mexico. Columba was (and remains) a faithful Catholic. Jeb maintained his ties to the Episcopal Church until 1996, when he converted to the faith of his wife. Jeb Bush is a Catholic.

Referring to his conversion to the Catholic faith, Bush said, “My faith was strengthened when I converted to my wife’s faith. It gives me a serenity that, in a world of a lot of turbulence, is really important. It creates a moral architecture that simplifies things. There are views that I have, that are grounded in faith, that really aren’t negotiable, and it just simplifies things.” Taking an unintended shot at his former church, Bush has listed his reasons for converting: “the sacraments of the Catholic Church, the timeless nature of the message of the Catholic Church, and the fact that the Catholic Church believes in and acts on absolute truth as its foundational principles and doesn’t move with modern times as my former religion (Episcopal) did.”

Mark Leibovich, formerly of The Washington Post, wrote extensively on Bush’s religion and change. Says Leibovich, “He underwent a personal transformation that included a reevaluation of his political, spiritual, and family life.” Should Bush be elected President in 2016, what effect will his Catholic faith have on his policies? Bush says, “As it relates to making decisions as a public leader, one’s faith should guide you.” He added, “That’s not to say that every decision I made would be completely in keeping with the teachings of the Catholic Church, but it was a guide post that kept me out of trouble.” Bush has frequently tweeted quotes from Pope Francis as evidence of the depth of his faith.

Not all pundits are impressed. Bill Maher, that great defender of the faith, blogged on the subject, questioning the sincerity of Jeb’s conversion, suggesting it came rather conveniently before his successful run for Governor in a state with more Catholics than Evangelicals. (The difference is just one percent.) Maher said, “Jeb Bush converted to Catholicism in 1996 – 22 years after marrying his Mexican-born wife, Columba, and conveniently between the first time he ran for governor (and lost) and the second time he ran, and won. I guess Jeb finally noticed his wife was Catholic after 22 years.”

So what are we to make of Jeb’s Catholic faith? First, let’s be glad he adheres to a Christian faith. Second, let’s not assume the Vatican will be running the White House (a common fear when John F. Kennedy became America’s first Catholic President in 1960). Third, let’s not question another man’s faith. By all accounts, the Bushes have been faithful members of their church in Miami for decades. And fourth, remember we are electing a President, not a pastor. While I question some of the tenants of the Catholic faith, I do not question the faith of Catholics, be they family members, friends or Jeb Bush. He is not the only Catholic running for President. But more on that later.

Cigarette Warnings Turn 50

It happened 50 years ago today. On July 27, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed a bill requiring cigarette makers to print health warnings on all cigarette packages about the effects of smoking. At the time, 43% of American adults were smokers; today, that number has fallen to 18%. In terms of actual numbers, taking overall population growth into consideration, the actual number of smokers has only dropped from 55 million to 38 million. The warning label reads: “SURGEON GENERAL WARNING: Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy.” Though the strong tobacco lobby has petitioned for the removal of these warnings, they remain.

So here’s my question. If it is accepted science that smoking is hazardous for our health, and if the warning labels are clearly stamped on every cigarette package, why do we still have 38 million smokers out there? Who are these people? I mean, who in their right mind, 50 years after the argument was settled, would still spend real money on real cigarettes that cause real cancer that brings about real death? The answer is contained in my question. The problem is that smokers are not in their “right minds.” How else can you explain it?

But let’s not be too hard on smokers. We all are smoking something. The Bible says that sin, when it is conceived, brings forth death. But here we are, 2000 years later, still sinning. Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins. But today’s average adult weighs 30 pounds more than in 1960. Go to a gym. The only people you will find working out are the ones who really don’t need to work out.

There is a solution. Jesus told the woman who was caught in adultery (where was the man?), “Go and sin no more.” God is more interested in your future than your past. And he knows that sin is hazardous for your spiritual health. As the alcoholic must put down the drink and the gambler must put away his money and the smoker must put down his cigarettes, the sinner must put down his sin. Anything else is hazardous. But to make that decision, you must be in your right mind.