Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gay Marriage

What should a Christian do about the new gay-marriage laws? 
1.  For starters, don’t panic!
            “The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short?’”  (Numbers 11: 23)
            “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  (Habakkuk 2:20)
            God has not lost control.  He is still on the throne.  Nor has anyone changed His laws and truths.  It bothers me when I hear Christians freaking out and saying, “Man is changing God’s laws!  Man is changing God’s laws!”  No, we aren’t.  Call it what they want, it still doesn’t change the fact that God decided that marriage is between one man and one woman.  And God’s laws still stand.   
            Just because society redefines "marriage" doesn't mean that God has.  Just because some churches are going against the Bible and claiming that now certain lifestyles are acceptable doesn't mean that God has. 
            We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture do not need to be terrified of or confused about the "changes" that society makes.  Because it doesn't really change anything in God’s eyes.  We do not need to panic or freak out, acting like the sky is falling and like it’s our responsibility to hold it up, and acting like mere people can actually change His abiding truths.

            God's laws still stand, whether someone acknowledges them or not, whether people want to agree with Him or not.  And it doesn’t matter how puffed up and proud people get, believing that they have made great "improvements" to God’s truth.  His laws still stand.  And we will be judged by them in the end.
            So we can relax (to a degree), trusting that God is still in control, that He will do a great job of defending Himself and His truths, that He dish out justice in the end, and that we will all answer to Him for our own choices.  We will answer to no one else, no one else will answer to us, and we will not be responsible for other people’s choices (unless we had a hand in leading them astray).

2.  Pray for our country!  Pray for revival!  Seek righteousness and humility before the Lord!
            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)   
            I fear that Christians (and “Christians”) in America are so focused on and bothered about the ways that other people fail to live rightly before the Lord that we fail to focus on and be bothered about the ways that we fail to live rightly before the Lord.  We are so busy wagging our fingers at others, saying, “No, no, no, don’t do that,” that we are not taking the time to examine our own hearts, to consider if we are seeking righteousness and truly humbling ourselves before Him. 
            We have grown lukewarm, comfortable, and lazy in our spiritual lives.  Enamored with this world instead of being enamored with God.  Focused on our priorities instead of God’s.  Worshipping a God that we created instead of God as He is.  (That way, we don’t have to feel convicted or guilty).  Overlooking sin in our lives but finding it in everyone else’s.  Examining everyone else but ourselves. 
            But we convince ourselves that we are doing okay as long as we are trying to get everyone else to live as God wants them to live.  But sometimes our passionate efforts are just a cover for our lack of passionate heart-devotion to the Lord.  We are so busy doing for the Lord that we fail at truly being with the Lord.   
            But our biggest concern shouldn’t be worldly non-believers who live worldly lives, but the ways that we live worldly lives without being bothered by it.    
            “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.”  (1 Cor. 5:12-13)
            If we started to focus less on how others are living and more on how we are living, and if we focused on truly humbling ourselves before the Lord and on seeking righteousness, we might see a serious revival and God would turn toward us and hear our prayers. 
            Notice what the verse said . . . “If my people, who are called by my name . . .”  This is not a verse for the world, but for believers.
            “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”  (1 Peter 3:12)
            Definitely, we need to intercede for our country, to pray for God’s mercy and for revival.  But I think it needs to start with ourselves.  I think if we focused more on humbling ourselves before God and abiding in Him and living Christ as much as we can and seeking His help through prayer, we would have a far greater impact on our country than by trying to fight against society, by trying to change them and to get them to believe as we do.  Because then God would be fighting the battle for us. 
            “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  (Psalm 121:1-2)
            We will all stand before God and give an account for our lives, not for someone else’s.  So let’s start by examining our own hearts and lives, humbling ourselves before God and seeking righteousness.  And then let’s see what God does.     

3.  Look for open doors and opportunities to take a stand for God’s truth!
            But do not do this if you are not doing the first two things.  No one wants to hear a panicky, haughty Christian preaching about what everyone else is doing wrong and how they should be living their lives, without first having calmed down, taken a look at themselves, and humbled themselves before the Lord. 
            But for those believers who are seeking to be humble before the Lord and who are seeking righteousness in their own lives and who are trusting that God is still in control and that He is listening to our prayers, we also need to be alert for any open doors that God brings for us to share about the hope that is in us and to stand up for His truth in appropriate ways.
            “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”  (1 Peter 3:15)
            We need to get involved in politics, in the public, in conversations, etc., to do what we can to protect our religious freedoms and to stand up for God’s truth in a humble, respectful way.  And we need to be willing to be persecuted for it more and more, if even only just mocked by everyone else. 
            But we always need to share the truth with love and gentleness.  We need to share truth in a loving way - in a way that shows that we have firm beliefs of right and wrong, but that also shows genuine love for the other person and respect for their right to agree or disagree.  (We don’t have to respect their choice, but we have to respect their right to choose.) 
            Even God has given people the right to agree or disagree with Him.  It doesn’t mean they are right in every way, just that they can rebel against Him if they want to.  (And face the consequences of it someday.)  It is not our job to force others to agree with God’s truth, but it is our job to stand by it firmly in our own lives, to live accordingly, and to uphold it in the face of opposition. 
            And as we seek to stand up for His truth and to protect religious rights, we need to remember that ultimately the battle is the Lord’s.  So we need to be on our knees before Him, asking Him to guide our country, to protect believers and our religious rights, and to show us the ways that we need to think, act, respond, change ourselves, and be involved.

4.  Get to know Scripture deeply.
            It is all-too-easy to be led astray about God’s truth if we don’t really know God’s Word for ourselves.  And this will happen more and more, as more and more churches fall to societal pressure to redefine God’s truths and to cut out sections of Scripture that make them uncomfortable. 
            I’ll be honest here, I really wish I could say that it doesn’t matter who you love – homosexual or heterosexual – as long as you are loved and are loved by someone else.  I know that many homosexuals have faced abuse and heartache, either when they were young and it led to them becoming homosexual or they were mistreated after coming out as homosexuals or they are distressed because they believe they were "born that way" and yet wish they weren't.  And I don’t want to add any more pain or heartache by claiming that homosexuality is against God’s laws. 
            And I would love to be one of those warm, fuzzy, squishy Christians who tells everyone “It’s okay.  We’re all good here.  God is a God of love, and love is the only thing that matters here.”  I would love to not be the “bearer of bad news,” to not have to say anything negative about anyone else’s choices, especially when it comes to something as personal and tender as love. 
            But really knowing what the Bible says is why I can – why I have to - say that God does not condone homosexuality in the Bible in any way.  It is always spoken of in a negative way, never in a positive or ambiguous way.  While He loves, loves, loves people – heterosexual or homosexual – He does not allow us to change His truth based on how we feel or what we wish was true. 

            [“But wait,” you might say, “what about the fact that most Levitical laws don’t apply anymore?  I mean, we don’t sacrifice animals anymore or have to keep a woman’s head covered.  We wear clothes with more than one kind of fabric.  And in the New Testament, we learn that we don’t have to circumcise anymore and that we can eat pork.  Doesn’t this show that the restriction against homosexuality in Lev. 18:22 shouldn’t apply anymore either?”
            If this is all there is to it then it would stand to reason that the laws against having sex with your close family members or with animals (Lev 18) or that the laws against stealing, lying, practicing sorcery, and defrauding others (Lev 19) shouldn’t apply either.  But would we ever say this? 
            The thing to keep in mind here is that there are three different kinds of laws in Leviticus. 
            There are civil/cultural laws which have to do with Israel at that time, such as owning land, how to treat slaves and animals, etc.  Those laws apply to those people, at that time.
            There are ceremonial laws which have to do with how to properly approach God, how to perform the ceremonies, how to do the things that set Israel apart religiously from its neighbors, etc.  Things like circumcise the boys, don’t eat pork, how to behave in church, sacrificing animals, etc. 
            But these kinds of strict laws are the laws that Jesus came to fulfill.  This is why they don’t apply anymore, why we don’t sacrifice animals for our sins, why we are no longer banned from approaching God if we eat pork, etc.  Because Jesus’ death paid the price.  Tore the curtain.  Made it possible for us to approach God without all the restrictions and formalities.  Jesus fulfilled those laws and they do not necessarily apply anymore.
            And then there are moral laws.  Laws about how God expects everyone of all time to behave and live.  This is where the laws about sexual relations, homosexuality, stealing, lying, sorcery, etc. fall.  And these laws will always apply.   
            How about the 10 commandments?  Would we toss them out just because they are “old” and from a different culture? 
            These moral laws still stand.  Yet it doesn’t mean that we take it in our hands to punish people for these things (i.e. stoning them) because Jesus came to offer grace and forgiveness.  And He is the judge.  He will judge us for our sins.  But don’t be misled, these laws will always stand.]

            God is a God of love, yes.  But He is also a holy and just God who will not let us get away with tampering with His Word.  And it is very clear throughout the whole Bible that God speaks against homosexuality.  And the churches and Christians who are now embracing it are straying from the clear teaching of Scripture.  It might give them major favor with the world, but not with God.  And they will be held accountable for it.
            It is one thing to love and respect other people, regardless of their choices, but it’s another to express approval of things that God does not approve of for the sake of making others feel loved and supported.  While Jesus was always compassionate toward sinful people, He was never accepting of sin.  He took sin seriously. 
            After all, our sin cost Him His life.       

             “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)
            We who hold to the clear teaching of Scripture will probably be outnumbered.  And we might begin to doubt Scripture’s clear truths because there will be a “great number of teachers” who call black “white” and white “black” and who change clear biblical truths into various shades of gray.  And their voices might be loud and convincing. 
            And if we are not in the Word regularly and learning what He says, it will be all-too-easy to backslide as a Christian, to excuse sin, to nibble our way lost, and to begin nodding our heads along with the “great number of teachers” who share their warm, cozy, popular, easy-to-swallow, “feel good” messages. 

             “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3: 16-17, emphasis is mine)   
             “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2: 15)   

            And we need to remember that reading the Bible is not an item on a “To Do” list, a task to be checked off so that we can get on with our day.  The Bible is God’s heart poured out to us.  An invitation to draw nearer to Him and to get to know Him and ourselves better.  And we will miss out greatly if we treat it lightly, if we fail to really meet Him in the pages. 
            “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.  Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. . . . I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. . . How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. . . I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”  (Psalm 119, up to verse 16) 
            If we fail to get to know God as He really is in His Word then we will find ourselves substituting our own ideas of who we want Him to be and what we want Him to teach.  We will cut out things from Scripture that we don’t like.  We will end up picking and choosing from the buffet of religious ideas so that we can put together a “religion” that better suits us and what we want, that makes us more popular with the world.   
            And over time, we will drift farther and farther away from Him and from where we should be in our spiritual lives.  And we will mislead others and eventually be held accountable for it. 
            Immerse yourself in God’s Word daily.  Drink from it deeply.  And get to know it well so that you know what you are talking about when it’s time to take a stand for God’s truth.  In love and gentleness, as we are called to do.  As more and more churches begin to tickle the ears of people, telling them what they want to hear, we are going to need Christians who really know what God’s Word says.  And who live it themselves!

            [Please note that I am not speaking out against homosexual people here.  Nor am I “homophobic.”  Quoting the Bible does not mean that someone is “homophobic,” so do not throw that word around to try to stop people from upholding God’s Word.
            (However, yes, there are some homophobic people out there, Christians and non-Christians.  But I do not think there is any real reason to be afraid of homosexuals, unless they are wielding a giant knife and chasing you or something like that.  The homosexual people that I know and that I am related to are pleasant people, not scary at all.  And that’s the thing:  They are people.  And there is no reason to fear other people unless they give you a reason to be afraid.  I’m just sayin’.)
            Anyway, back to my point.  I am not speaking out against homosexual people here.  It’s not my job to judge those outside the church.  I am speaking against the Christians who compromise God’s Word.  And next, I will be speaking against Christians who treat people – homosexuals included – harshly, unfairly, and unlovingly. 
            My focus here is not on admonishing homosexuals or worldly people, but admonishing Christians who are in the wrong.  Yet, I know that it will look like I am trying to cater to both sides and yet criticize both sides, and so, most likely, I will end up offending both sides.  But even if I do offend, I hope that you can see God’s truth in what I am saying, and I hope that I am saying it in a lovingly-firm way.]

5.  And lastly, love others and share God’s grace!
            “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)
            We need to love our fellow humans!  We need to be loving when we are sharing truth.  We need to be loving when they disagree.  And we need to be loving when we are mocked, persecuted, and scorned. 
            At the root of it all, we need to be loving.  Because these are the people that God made in His image and that He loved so much that He sent Jesus to die for them, too, so that they might find life in Him.    
            And when it comes to interacting with people who do not hold to God’s Word, we need to remember that God loves all people and wants all people to come to Him.  He is kind to those who hate Him. 
            “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”  (Matthew 5:45 
            And Jesus ate with sinners.  In fact, He preferred the company of sinners to the company of the religious snobs. 
            I don’t think this means that God and Jesus condone the lifestyles and choices of sinners, of the unrighteous.  Providing for them and visiting with them does not translate into agreeing with the way they live.  But it does show that God and Jesus care about sinners and value them as people.  (Thank God!  Because let’s remember that we are all sinners!  We are all in that same boat, regardless of our sin.) 
            Jesus looks beyond a sinner’s lifestyle and choices and sinfulness, and He sees the person deep within.  The person worth getting to know, worth loving, worth forgiving, worth saving.
            This does not mean He overlooks sinfulness or that the unrighteous will not be held accountable for it, but He sees them as more than just their sin.  He sees them – He sees all of us - as people worth dying for, worth rescuing from themselves.  And this includes the homosexual person. 
            Should we believers treat un-believers (should we sinners treat fellow sinners) with any less respect, kindness, grace, or love than that? 
            [Of course, I realize that the dilemma is that calling someone’s lifestyle “sin” sounds like the opposite of being loving.  And sometimes – to sound more loving – we want to back off from that truth, soften it a lot. 
            But while Jesus does call us to love others, it doesn’t mean that we can deny the truth found in Scripture.  His Word and His truth should be our guide for understanding how to love others.  Not the other way around.  Our love for other people should not determine how we view His Word and His truth.   It’s love God first . . . then love others.  And loving Him includes upholding His truth and honoring Him above all.
            A bunch of pastors and Christian authors are changing their position on gay marriage.  They now say that it’s okay.  They even call it holy and God-ordained.  They want to be inclusive and sound loving and not make their gay friends feel bad.  (Yet, how will they feel when they stand before God and give an account for leading their gay friends eternally astray?)
            One of them said that the reason he switched his view is because he wanted to get his head in line with his heart. 
            And that right there is the problem!  He let his feelings dictate what he chose to believe and how he interpreted the Bible.  But once again, Scripture is so clear on this - all throughout it – that you have to do an awful lot of editing and ignoring to come up with the idea that God approves of homosexuality.        
            But for those of us who are willing to remain true to Scripture, we will have to find a way to balance it with still being loving to all of the people that God loves.  And I’m not sure yet the best way to do that in a culture that is so divided and angry.  I’m not sure yet what’s the best way to live out Scripture while still reaching out to those who have chosen to reject God’s truths. 
            But I do know that we don’t have the option of changing what God says.  We can disagree with the Bible or we can choose to ignore the Bible, but we cannot change the Bible to fit our own ideas.]   

            “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.  If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.  Do to others as you would have them do to you. . . . Then your reward will be great, and you will be Sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”  (Luke 6:27-31, 35-36)
            God provides for the unrighteous, just as He does for the righteous, the same kind of basic care.  And we are to give to anyone who asks, to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, and to let them get away with wrong-doing (to a degree and within reason), without retaliation. 
            And yet, we fear that if we are too nice to them or if we interact with them too much or if we sell them a wedding cake that they ordered, it might be construed as supporting their lifestyle or it might encourage the spread of godlessness.
            I don’t know.  Does it?  Will it?  Is the only right answer to refuse to sell them wedding cakes or weddings products?  Is that the best way to show that we don’t support gay marriage?
            Yes, I support the right of private business owners to refuse to do anything that violates their faith.  But it does make me wonder where all this will end?  Christian cab-drivers refusing to drive a pregnant lesbian to the hospital?  Christian doctors refusing to treat a gay patient?  Refusing to sell craft supplies for a gay engagement party?  Refusing to share a cup of sugar with a gay neighbor who is making dinner for their family? 
            If my unmarried neighbor was moving in with his girlfriend and they needed help getting some furniture into their house, should I say “No, I cannot help you move in together because it’s a sin to live together before you are married”?  Would helping them move furniture mean that I am helping them sin or condoning their choice?  (I am asking this for real, not rhetorically.  Would it?  Because I’m still not sure what to think about all this.)  Should we refuse to sell contraception to unmarried people because they shouldn’t be having sex anyway, according to God’s laws? 
            Are their choices any of our business?  To what extent, considering that we share a country and that God might discipline a rebellious country?  (Ideally, a country would live according to God’s laws and standards, especially if they want His blessings and don’t want to face His discipline.  But what if that’s not possible?  What’s the next best thing?) 
            How should we treat teen mothers, people who cheat on their taxes, prison inmates, drug addicts, women who have had abortions, etc.?  Do we shun them, too, for fear of looking like we condone their choices and lifestyles?
            Yes, there is a degree to which we have to separate ourselves from the world around us and take a stand against moral decay and blatant sinfulness.  But there is a degree to which we have to get in there, into the mess, to live alongside the people of this world, to treat them with love, kindness, mercy, and grace, and to do all we can to draw them to Christ, even while we disagree with their choices.  And I’m not sure the best way to do that, but there’s got to be a way.  Jesus did it.  And if He could do it, so can we. 

            I wonder – if Jesus were here in the flesh and still a carpenter – if He would sell a gay person some furniture that they wanted to buy for their significant other? 
            I wonder.
            I can’t say for sure what He would do, but I do know that with the woman at the well (John 4), He never told her she was a sinner or scolded her for her lifestyle or pulled back from her or treated her differently than anyone else. 
            Actually, He did treat her differently.  He reached out to her, whereas others probably shamed her (which would explain why she was at the well alone in the middle of the day, instead of going when all the other women went).
            Knowing that she was a broken person in need of healing, He approached her.  He risked breaking social norms by even speaking to her.  But He did not scold or condemn her.  He simply stated the truth that she had five husbands and was now living with a man she was not married to.  He stated the facts about her life and told her that He was the Messiah and offered her everything He had to give – love, salvation, forgiveness.  And then He left it up to her to come to the conclusion that she was living in sin and needed to change. 
            He didn’t make it about a change of behavior, but about a change of the heart first.  Clean the inside of the cup before tackling the outside.  He didn’t force His truths on her or wait till she got her act together to reach out to her in love.  He tried to draw her with simple truth and kindness, instead of turning His back on her or trying to shame her or trying to push her out of her sinful lifestyle. 
            I wonder.
            And the woman caught in adultery in John 8?  The religious leaders wanted to punish her, to give her what her actions deserved.  But Jesus stood up for her.  He gave her back her life instead of applying the required, appropriate penalty.  He stopped the throwing of stones, even though He alone had every right to throw them. 
            It didn’t mean that He condoned her choices (He challenged her to leave her life of sin), although I am sure it might look like that to the religious leaders.  But I think He cared more about where she was going than where she had been.  He cared more about the potential for her to get her life right than He did about what she had done wrong.  He cared more about making sure everyone else minded their own business than He did about “dishing out justice” and impressing the religious snobs.  And He cared more about reaching past her broken, sinful condition and touching her heart and offering her grace, mercy, forgiveness, and healing than He did about the fact that His actions might be interpreted by the religious leaders as supporting or excusing her immorality.
            I fear that we Christians, in an effort to stand firmly on God’s Truth, can fail sometimes at seeing and loving the person behind the sin.  We fail at extending grace, mercy, kindness, and respect because we don’t want to look like we have compromised God’s Word or gone soft on sin.  We slam the door on sinners of various kinds and turn away from them so that it doesn’t look like we agree with their choices.  We throw stones at others, when we should be shielding them from stones. 
            This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t call sin what it is.  After all, remember that Jesus didn’t excuse the woman’s life of sin; He challenged her to leave it.  It just means that it’s not our job to dish out punishment for sins or to condemn, criticize, and shun those who sin.  For we are all sinners.  We are all on the same level at the foot of the cross.  We all need grace and mercy and love and forgiveness.  And we need to extend it to others also, to draw them to Christ.  We need to love the person while still upholding God’s truth.    
            People are dying every day in their sin.  And souls are being lost forever.  And here we are . . . fighting over wedding cake. 
            Whereas Jesus would be fighting for their souls.   
            I think that, yes, we need to stand up for the biblical truth that God speaks against homosexuality in the Bible.  But . . . I don’t know . . . do we need to take it further and refuse to sell them a cake or deny them some other product or service because they are violating God’s laws?  Don’t we all violate God’s laws at some point?  Won’t God be the judge of all of us in the end? 
            I don’t know, but I don’t think that we have to be overly concerned that our kindness will look like we are condoning godlessness, for even God shows kindness to all without partiality.  And Jesus stood up for those in sin, reaching out to them in the hopes that they might find something in Him worth believing in and might change the way they are living.
            And besides, God knows our hearts.  He knows whether we are making them a wedding cake because we support their lifestyle (which would be wrong) or if we are making them a wedding cake because that’s what they ordered and because they have a right to buy cake and because we don’t have to judge their reasons for wanting that cake and because we are treating them with the same respect and kindness that we show others and because we are treating them the way that we would like to be treated (which is perfectly acceptable, I think). 
            And on the other hand - to be fair - He knows if our refusal to make them a wedding cake is because we want to do right in His eyes and uphold His standards and honor and glorify Him above all.  And I think that would be fine, too.  In God’s eyes.  Not the world’s, of course. 
            But the point is, I don’t think there’s only one right way to handle this dilemma, only one possible response.  I think there can be many different, godly responses to it.  And we need to listen to how the Lord is guiding us, if ever we face a situation like this. 
            But I do not think that we have to be overly concerned that He might think we are turning against Him if we are kind and generous to everyone, even to those in sin.  Because He is kind and generous to everyone, even to those in sin.  I don’t think we have to worry too much that our kindness might cause godlessness to spread.  It might just be that our kindness causes people to see Jesus in us.
            I remember when the “Gay Olympics” was coming through our town and how people were talking about picketing, holding up signs about how homosexuality is wrong and all that.  But our pastor got up one Sunday and suggested a different idea. 
            He said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if, instead of picketing, we showed the love of Christ by handing out bottles of water to the participants?”  I thought that was so beautiful.  It didn’t have anything to do with condoning or supporting their lifestyle, but with loving them and being kind to them, in Jesus’s name. 
            Of course, something like that walks a dangerously thin line between showing Jesus’ love and looking like we are supporting their lifestyle (which would confuse those watching us), so it would have to be balanced somehow with God’s truth, maybe by making little Bibles available for the taking or by offering to pray with (or silently praying for) each person that takes a water-bottle or just by giving an honest answer when asked a question about our faith.  We don’t have to force truth on people, but we do have to share it and stand firmly on it ourselves. 
            For one reason or other, we never did end up passing out bottles of water.  But I still loved that our pastor had a different response than “Let’s go hold up signs condemning those gay people for how sinful they are!”  Honestly, I can't imagine that Jesus would be holding up signs either.  I tell ya, if there was someone there with a sign every time we all sinned, we would always have a sign waving in our faces, reminding us of how we break God’s laws.
            We are called to spread the truth in love and gentleness.  But sometimes we focus more on truth than love (the angry, fist-waving sign-holders).  And sometimes we focus more on love than truth (the churches who are editing God’s Word to please the people).  But there is a balance there somewhere, a way to share the truth while still being loving.  And that is when people will see Jesus in us. 

            I don’t know how I would handle the “pass out or don’t pass out water bottles” dilemma or the “sell or don’t sell them a wedding cake” conundrum.  I really don’t.  (And of course, I am not just talking about or picking on Gay Olympic picketers or wedding cake-makers, but I am using these as examples of all the different ways we Christians have to discern the line between loving our neighbor yet not condoning their lifestyle.) 
            But as I said, I don’t know if there is just one “right” way to handle it.  Scripture does not spell out how to balance “love your neighbor” and “have nothing to do with godlessness.”  So it will probably look different for each person. 
            Maybe for one Christian, it means selling regular cakes to gay people but not wedding cakes.  Maybe for another, it’s okay to sell wedding cakes because gay people have a right to buy cake, too.  Maybe for one, it’s okay to sell cakes but not to write any pro-homosexual messages on it that the customer orders.  Maybe one Christian will take a stand and say “No” and risk legal repercussions.  Maybe one will do their job without moral qualms.  And maybe one will change their policies or close up shop in order to not have to do anything that violates their faith. 
            And as I said, I do think that private businesses should have the right to politely refuse to do anything that violates their values, to say “I can’t help you with that, but here is the name of someone who can.”  And I think business owners who have faced persecution and penalties for taking a stand and saying, “Sorry, but I can’t do that because of my faith” will be blessed by God for their faithfulness and find their rewards in heaven. 
            And I think there is a difference between selling them a product that they take to their wedding and having to be there yourself, such as being the wedding photographer.  If you were there in person, you would have to hear those words “Can anyone show just cause why these two should not be married?  Speak now or forever hold your peace.”  (If they even say that anymore.)  And you might feel compelled to speak up.  Because by your silence, you would be condoning the wedding.  Maybe a gay couple should think really hard before hiring a Christian to actually be at the wedding.
            But with a product that you just hand off to them, you are not really responsible for what’s done with it.
            However, when it comes to cakes where people want messages written on them, I would have a hard time writing messages on a cake that violated God’s truth.  I don’t know if I could, in good conscience, write a pro-homosexual message on a cake for someone.  Or a pro-abortion or pro-false religion or pro-atheist message, for other examples.  I might have to change my policy so that only certain, basic messages are offered.  That way, everyone has the same choices.
            (Remember the door swings both ways.  Should we expect pro-homosexual people to write anti-homosexual messages?  Or pro-choice people to write “Abortion is murder”?  Or Muslim cake-makers to write “Jesus is the only way”?)  
            I’m glad I am not in the wedding business right now.  My sympathies are with those who are and who have hard decisions to make.
            I don’t know how it should all be handled legally.  But I do think private businesses should have the right to not be forced to do something that violates your faith or values, whether you are Christian or not.  And I think we all need to be a little more tolerant of that, of possibly being offended by others.  Because that’s part of life and of living among people with different values.  If you want the right to live out your values, you need to respect the rights of others to do it, too.  I do not want to live in a totalitarian country where the government maintains tight control over our choices and where we are not allowed to make decisions according to our values.     

            Take time to pray over it, if ever you face a situation like that.  There is a line for each person, a balance.  Let the Holy Spirit guide you to know where that line is for you. 
            We need to live the Word in our own lives, stand up for His truth, and do our best to draw – not push – other people into the kingdom of God, being living examples of His love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, and grace.
            “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  (2 Peter 3:11-14)   

            I don’t know if our country will ever be able to resolve this issue in a way that satisfies everyone.  But what I would really like to see is all of us becoming a little more tolerant of each other.  Not the redefined “tolerance” that is expected of people nowadays, the kind of tolerance that tells people that you have to support other people’s choices and can never disagree.  No, I would like to see us go back to the old, real definition of “tolerance,” the one where we agree to disagree and where we can live alongside other people with mutual respect and kindness even though we don’t see things the same way. 
            The rest of the world needs to tolerate a Christian’s right to believe in the Bible, to share what the Bible says (in a loving way, of course), to vote according to our consciences, and to live out our faith in the way we feel we must, as long as it isn’t physically hurting anyone.  If you don’t like what the Bible says, take it up with God.  Don’t shoot the messenger. 
            And if you are offended by something we say or do, well, join the club.  All of us are offended at many different times, by many different people.  It’s a part of life.  And we could all learn to be offended a little better.  Just look at the television shows and movies if you want to see how much offensiveness Christians have to tolerate, just because we have firm, clear views of salvation and what’s right and what’s wrong.  And remember that we all have beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong.  It’s just that we all define it a little differently.  And we all have views and beliefs and actions that are going to be offensive to someone.  So we could all learn to have respect for others and to tolerate others a little more.  (Yet many people do need to evaluate how they are treating others and presenting themselves.  Sometimes, people are offended for good reason!)
            Most Christians I know – the ones who are truly living their faith and not just preaching it - are some of the nicest people out there, the kind of people you would want around if ever you were in need of help.  And yet, we are being mocked and criticized harsher than almost any group of people out there.  There is more tolerance and respect for everyone else than there is for a Christian, for those who believe in loving all people as God loves them (even if we do it imperfectly at times.  We are human, after all.)  I think that you would find a lot of goodness and love in the heart of your Christian neighbors if you stopped mocking them and got to know them.
            And Christians need to do better at tolerating other people’s rights to live as they want to, without getting so freaked out about it and feeling like it’s our responsibility to change them.  And if our society has decided that gay people can marry, don’t get so angry and upset about it.  God is still God, and He will handle it.  Just get on with your life and living the way you should.

            And if I may say something here to those who feel it’s their job to force God’s truth on others, screaming out Bible verses at people, fighting with them over truth, speaking up about God’s truth to a hostile crowd:  It’s not always your job to do that.  Remember what Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 10:14: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”  What He is saying is that if someone refuses to listen to the truth, let them have their way.  Hand them over to their own hardness.  Do not try to force them to hear you or to agree with you.  Let them have the right to be resistant and to ignore the truth.
            I think this is good advice for many of us in this culture nowadays, especially for those who are making themselves into targets for speaking the truth.  You don’t need to step into any traps that the world lays for you or to make yourself a target for those who are just waiting to lash out at God’s truth.  “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)  This is Jesus Himself telling us that we don’t need to share His truth with people who only want to tear it and us to shreds.
            Most Americans know what the Bible says about certain issues, and they don’t want to hear us hammering them with biblical truth anymore.  Talk to those who will listen.  Give answers to those who ask questions.  Live your life in a way that reflects Jesus to others.  But leave those who want to be resistant to God’s truth alone.  They will be responsible for their own hardness, and He will deal with them later.       
           Christians sometimes feel it is our duty to force God’s ways on people.  But even God doesn’t do that.  He allows people to live as they want to, to reject Him and rebel or to accept Him and obey.  We don’t need to force God’s ways on people or shake a finger at them and yell, “Sinner!” 
            But we do need to live the Word, stand up for His truth, and do our best to draw – not push – other people into the kingdom of God, being living examples of His love, forgiveness, kindness, goodness, and gentleness.  (And of course, part of that is making sure to warn them about sin and hell, in a loving way.  Friends don’t let friends walk down that wide path to destruction without at least sharing with them once the way to salvation or praying for their souls.) 
            And of course, we have the best intentions when we try to push God’s ways on society, because we know that God’s ways are for the best and because we want to honor and glorify Him and to have Him bless our nation.  But we can’t expect everyone else to agree with us.  All we can do is focus on ourselves.
            Yet I do have to say that, as a Christian, I am truly afraid that the further we drift from His holy standards, the more we will earn ourselves some serious discipline.  And He might just turn our country over to the hardness of our hearts.  The Old Testament is filled with stories of how God uses some pretty hefty disciple to motivate His people to call on Him and to follow closely after Him again. 
            And if this happens – if He allows some major trauma or trial to discipline us – then it is wholly deserved.  As a nation, we are pushing Him out of the public eye more and more.  We are denying His name, flagrantly breaking His laws, worshipping other “gods,” and even we believers are drifting into lukewarm-ness and trading God’s Word for “ear-tickling” messages.  It is only a matter of time. 
            But it might just be that this kind of thing – the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage – is just the wake-up call that Christians need.  Not necessarily to get us to try to force society to do things our way, but to get us to take a good, long look at ourselves and the ways we need to be praying and seeking righteousness and humbling ourselves and living according to the Word.  Because that is what will get God to move in our country.  That is what we call revival.  (And I can’t stress that enough!)          

             “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?  You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. . . . So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”  (2 Peter 3:11-14)   
            “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.  Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place.”  (2 Chronicles 7:14-15)