FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY MAGAZINE
Jack Phillips scores a major religious freedom victory—for himself, but ruling fails to resolve legal debate over LGBT accommodations and conscience rights of conservative Christians.
In the biggest religious liberty case of the year, the US Supreme Court sided 7–2 against a state commission that unfairly singled out a Christian baker who declined to decorate a cake for a same-sex wedding.
The high court ruled that state penalties levied against Jack Phillips, the Colorado business owner at the center of Masterpiece Cakeshop Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, violated his First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion since the regulations were not applied neutrally.
While the court clearly came down in Phillips’s favor, Anthony Kennedy acknowledged in the court’s opinion that similar cases (like those that have come up involving photographers and florists, as well as pizza shops and a range of other businesses) may be adjudicated differently.
As SCOTUS blog wrote in summary, the decision still allows for the government to bar discrimination against same-sex couples, “so long as the law is applied neutrally and without hostility to religion. But whether the very same law could sometimes violate free speech rights is still totally open.”
“No one should be forced to violate their faith in order to earn a living, and Jack, who I’ve met and consider a friend, just wants to be free to live out his faith in his chosen profession,” stated Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, who was “delighted” at the ruling and its implications for religious freedom.
Phillips, who had provided cakes for gay customers in other circumstances, argued that making a cake for a same-sex wedding would be an endorsement of the marriage and a violation of his beliefs.
“I know Jack would want me to remind all of us that his court victory is not a time for gloating or disrespect toward those who disagree with us,” Daly said. “Rather, we have an opportunity to build bridges and forge trust and mutual respect with our neighbors, coworkers, and fellow citizens who have a different opinion than ours.”
Mark Rienzi, president of Becket (formerly the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty), called the decision “a strong message to governments across the country that they must respect—rather than punish—religious diversity on important issues.”
Writing for the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Joe Carter noted that the implications of today’s ruling are limited. He concluded:
“What is significant about the case, though, is that the Court reiterated, as Justice Kagan says, that “state actors cannot show hostility to religious views; rather, they must give those views “neutral and respectful consideration.”
In the court’s opinion, Kennedy addressed the process and decision-making made by the state agency in Phillips’s instance in particular.
“The Commission’s hostility was inconsistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee that our laws be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion,” he wrote. “Phillips was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.”
The unequal treatment in this case was relatively straightforward: While the state commission did not allow Phillips to refuse to bake the cake on religious grounds, three other Colorado bakers were not penalized for turning down a cake request that “would have required them to violate their secular commitments,” wrote Neil Gorsuch—the court’s newest justice and himself a native Coloradan—in a concurring opinion.
“That kind of judgmental dismissal of a sincerely held religious belief is, of course, antithetical to the First Amendment and cannot begin to satisfy strict scrutiny,” he wrote. “The Constitution protects not just popular religious exercises from the condemnation of civil authorities. It protects them all.”
Since the decision centered around the state commission’s failure to act neutrally with regards to Phillips’s religious freedom defense, the accommodation exception for Masterpiece Cakeshop does not universally apply to all Christians who desire to refuse service to LGBT customers on religious grounds.
“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue respect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market,” Kennedy wrote.
Despite predictions that the Supreme Court would end up split over this much-anticipated case, the rest of the court concurred with Kennedy, with only Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting.
This report will be updated.
You have a race to run. I have a race to run.
Your race is not exactly like my race and neither is my race like yours.
To run your race successfully and faithfully, God has already put your beautiful feet into your own special pair of spiritual Nikes custom-made for how God made you, who you are and what you will become in Christ. Your shoes are awesome, but not nearly as amazing as your race!
Your race is a very personal race you’ve been given. Your Creator planned out your course to run long before you came into this world. Perhaps, you realize this truth more at times than at others or maybe never at all. Nevertheless, this race is for you. It is your race to run. It is unlike all others.
It’s quite possible you wouldn’t have chosen your race at all, had the choice been yours. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have chosen this particular route. Or perhaps you wouldn’t have chosen your pace. Or perhaps you would have chosen different racing environments, teammates, or coaches. Or perhaps you would have chosen different capacities, strengths, and resources, ones you believe would help you run more effectively. Or perhaps you would have chosen a different distance.
But here you are: in this race, on this route, at this pace, on this terrain, in this climate, with these people, and your strengths, and your limitations, for this distance. Like it or not, this is your race.
And the question is this: “Will you embrace your race or keep trying to escape it? What mindset will you choose?” For though you may not have chosen your race, you do get to choose how you run it.
How to Run Free
There’s only one way to real freedom and real joy: we must renounce our fantasy races, routes, paces, terrains, climates, teammates, strengths, or distances, and embrace the race we have been given. This is how to run free and for joy:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1–2)
This text shows us how to run our race and run it well.
1. Learn from great runners.
You are running a unique race, but not an unprecedented race. No one has experienced exactly what you have, but many have experienced the same emotions, temptations, and various other challenges common to man (1 Corinthians 10:13). That’s why the Bible includes a “great cloud” of examples of faithful race-running.
If you want to run well, study other runners. (Hebrews 11) provides a helpful starter list, but it is by no means exhaustive. Study the great faith-runners. Examine all aspects of their courses. God did far more abundantly than all they asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20). He will do more for you, too, if you run faithfully.
2. Run as light as possible.
This is your race. God has given it to you. This truth is for your liberation, not your limitation. It’s meant to free you, not constrict you. It’s folly and sin to waste time wishing your race were different or resenting God’s choices. Most of those in the great cloud of witnesses had no idea all that God was doing while they were running very difficult races. Neither do you. But learn from the witnesses that God’s purposes are bigger and better than you can imagine.
Lay aside all the weights of fantasy and escape. Lay aside the weights of past sins and regrets. It makes for miserable, slow running. The cross pays for all the past, and the future joy will make all present difficulties now seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17). Focus on your race, and only carry what God gives you. His burden is light (Matthew 11:30).
3. Run with endurance.
Endurance is only increased by pushing our current limits. It’s hard, yes. And you don’t know how you’ll ever be able to run like other great faith-runners. Neither did they when they began. This is not a short sprint—this is a marathon.
Begin today, and push your limits. When tomorrow comes, run and push your limits. What exhausts you today will be much easier in six months, but then you’ll be pushing different limits. Don’t look at your fantasized ideal of a great faith-runner. Let Jesus make you into whatever runner He wants. You faithfully and prayerfully aim to increase your current endurance limits.
4. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Look to Jesus — He is your greatest example, your Savior, and your greatest intercessor (Hebrews 7:25). He is the source of your greatest joy — your one great prize for running well (Psalm 16:11; John 15:11). A race is only run for a prize. If the prize is not before your eyes, you will lose motivation. If you feel unmotivated to run your race, it may be because the prize has been obscured. First priority: eyes on the prize again, whatever it takes — whatever it takes! And then “run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).
Embrace Your Race
This is your race. God has set it before you. There is more glory in it than you yet comprehend. “How are you going to run it?”
You can’t change the past; stop trying. There’s much you can’t change about the present; stop trying. There are many fantasies singing like sirens to allure you into the illusion of indulgent escape; stop listening, and don’t let them eat your race time and weigh you down. Understand God has already equipped you to run it. His daily supply of grace is more than you actually need, it’s abundant. You can totally trust Him for that. He would never put you on a course and not provide the means for you to complete it gloriously!
Embrace your race. Study the great faith-runners, run as light as possible, push your current endurance limits, and get your eyes on the Great Prize. Run freer, run faster, and run for joy. Millions of heaven’s runners and saints from the past and now in eternity are cheering you on loudly as you read these words. Can you hear them? “Go! Go!! Go!!!”
Let nothing hold you back or slow you down today. Let nothing hinder your progress now. Give your race all you got and you will celebrate with heaven forever your finish to God’s glory! Your level of joy in heaven’s eternity depends on how you run your race here and now on earth. Believe me, your race is worth the extra-effort. The grandstands are filled with cheers for you to run with dedication, strength and faithfulness. We are all rooting you on! Finish strong my friend!
Your fellow race-runner,
“God’s Grace in Your Suffering”
Author: David Powlison
Crossway Publishers, (2018), 127 pgs.
“Why me? Why do I have to suffer as I do? What have I done to deserve this? Where is God in all my affliction? How do I deal with this? What do I do now?”
Common questions humanity has asked in the face of pain since the dawn of time. The author, David Powlison, takes these questions to the next level and asks a deeper, more applicable question especially for Christians today, “How does God meet you in trouble, loss, disability and pain?”
Creatively, the author asks the reader to personalize their particular suffering and visualize it in the form of a workshop using the backdrop of the beloved church hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” as the stage on which he biblically portrays how God’s grace dramatically performs in our life challenges to bless us beyond our wildest imagination.
Through this classic hymn, Powlision extrapolates rich expository truths, stanza by stanza, that resonate through Scripture. His keen grasp of our typical negative reactions to suffering is readily apparent in his writing which no doubt originates from his extensive Christian Counseling ministry background.
The central premise of the book is clearly pastoral and devotional, not academic or philosophical, “How can God’s goodness help me to respond to my affliction in a way which will honor Him and bless me at the same time, in the most spiritually productive manner?”
Suffering is a very personal, sensitive experience. Physical ailments, mental health issues, grieving over a lost one, “God’s Grace in Your Suffering” gives you the freedom to make this journey of reading it as personal as possible. A lot of emotions might come up while reading this, but that’s okay. When you answer the questions in the book, you’re bound to take a good hard look at yourself and your suffering. “Various trials” are inevitable in life. Christianity isn’t a breeze. God doesn’t promise you an easy life. What He does promise you is that He will be there in the midst of your suffering. “A sufferers primal need is to hear God talking and to experience him purposefully at work. When you hear, take to heart, and know that he is with you, everything changes, even when nothing has changed in your situation.”
Perhaps the greatest take-away I experienced from this book is a freshly renewed, profound sense of new gratitude to God for how His goodness promises to use suffering in my Christian life and how I can better cooperate with His grace towards that end. I could keenly sense God’s loving, encouraging, strengthening voice filling me with enduring hope to run my marathon race of faith with a new depth of courage and determination I did not have before I read this book.
My heartfelt prayer is that your perspective on suffering will change through reading this book. That you will understand God’s perspective and good purpose on suffering. This book is vital for the Christian, because suffering is inevitable. Powlison invites his readers into his world and how God worked through his own suffering. By doing that, he warmly encourages his readers that they don’t have to walk through suffering alone. I highly recommend this book to all believers.
Crossway Publishers, through the Blog Review program, provided a complimentary copy of this book for my review.
David Crews, Ph.D.
Here are a couple of more pointers to keep in mind that will help you deal with braggards.
3. Simply Change the Subject.
If you friend or relative has a chronic problem with boasting, then as nicely as possible, when they start their braggard session, simply change the subject and smile. It’s possible they have been doing it so long that they may not even realize how ridiculous they are looking. Without a doubt, chronic boasting projects huge insecurities. But, by changing the topic of the conversation, this may get their attention.
4. If All Else Fails–Just Walk Away.
Sometimes “tough love” means doing what you have to do to help the other person, if it hurts them a little. Apparently, they are blinded and not only insensitive to their problem, but also you as well. Sometimes walking away in love and respect is the best thing to do. Don’t forget to pray for them. You may very well be the person God wants to use to help them not only see the error of their ways, but begin to work in the direction of positive change and growth into humble Christlikeness.