Monday, April 01, 2013

The 3 - March 31, 2013

He is risen indeed!   Easter weekend gives us a chance to pause, reflect, and worship in response to what Jesus did for us on the cross at Calvary.   Not only is the celebration of Easter the top news story of this week, but the death and resurrection of Christ are the culmination of the story of God's love for and redemption of humanity.   I also check out some response and analysis to the U.S. Supreme Court's hearing of arguments concerning the definition of marriage.   And, let's open up with the story of religious freedom in Kentucky.

3 - Kentucky religious freedom bill withstands governor's veto

A bill that would support religious freedom in the state of Kentucky is now law, thanks to the House and the Senate there voting to override the veto by Gov. Steve Beshear, who said that The Kentucky Religious Freedom Act could “threaten public safety, health care and individual’s civil rights," according to a report on the CitizenLink website.

The legislation was designed to protect the religious freedom of individuals and religious organizations. The bill’s language states that the government shall not burden these freedoms, unless it can prove a “compelling governmental interest” for doing so. The legislation also protects the rights of individuals and religious organizations to act or refuse to act on religious grounds.

The legislation is simply a way to protect people, said Kent Ostrander, president of the Family Foundation of Kentucky.  He explains that, "This bill is a shield for people of faith...It is not a weapon or a sword against anyone else .There’s been significant misunderstanding about that in recent weeks.”

The House voted 79-15 and the Senate voted 32-6 to override the veto.

This legislation is significant in that it offers protection for those who desire to share their faith and act according to their deeply held religious beliefs.   In an era where many are concerned about the erosion of religious freedom in America, this bill attempts to provide a step in the opposite direction - and could be an example for other states.

2 - Gay marriage goes before the U.S. Supreme Court

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in two cases involving same-sex marriage:  the Proposition 8 case, involving California's amendment defining marriage as one man for one woman, and a case involving the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996, holding that for purposes of Federal law, a marriage is defined as one-man, one-woman.

Tuesday, the high court held arguments on Proposition 8.   Bruce Hausknecht, Judicial Analyst for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family, said that Justice Kennedy, generally thought to be the "swing" vote in this case, expressed a view that while the proponents of Prop 8 do have “standing” to bring and argue the appeal, he clearly has doubts about whether the issue of same-sex marriage, in general, should be before the Supreme Court yet.  Hausknecht also pointed out that Justice Scalia's questions to Ted Olson, arguing on behalf of those challenging Prop 8, on when it became unconstitutional to prohibit gay marriage, and Olson’s fumbling of a response, helped prove Scalia’s point that the Court can’t make decisions like this based on some sort of evolutionary theory of constitutional law.

While the Supreme Court may be a bit hesitant to weigh in on Prop 8, the next day, as the arguments shifted to DOMA, there did seem to be some questioning on whether or not the Federal government should be defining marriage - Justice Kennedy reportedly seemed to question if this were strictly a state matter.   Family Research Council, in its "Washington Update" for Wednesday, said that FRC's Senior Fellows Chris Gacek and Ken Klukowski, both attorneys, were at the Supreme Court for the oral arguments, and Chris said not to believe media spin that DOMA took a total beating.  He reported that Paul Clement, the former U.S. Solicitor General hired by the House BLAG to defend DOMA, gave the strongest performance of any attorney in the two days of arguments.

FRC says that:
No amount of legal footwork by those seeking redefinition of marriage can change the fact that society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad. It's not just about love between adults, it's about civilization. That's a compelling reason for both California and the federal government to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and for the Supreme Court to uphold both Proposition 8 and DOMA.
Emily Belz, writing for the WORLD News Group at, said that:
The U.S. Supreme Court cast a skeptical eye on the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday, but on federalism grounds rather than equal protection. So if the court strikes down the law, it would probably do so because the law overrules states on marriage, rather than because the law discriminates against homosexuals. 
Liberty Counsel notes that:
Marriage is not just an emotional bond between two people or a legal document. It is an institution ordained of God to rightly order procreation and provide the best environment for the well-being of children. The natural family is fundamental to our very existence! That’s why the Supreme Court’s decision on this case is so important.
A same-sex relationship simply cannot be a marriage. Marriage does not depend on a popularity poll.
If marriage is redefined into something it cannot be, the marriage institution will be weakened, children and families will suffer, and religious freedom will be at risk.
Your prayers have never been more critical! Pray that the Supreme Court upholds the natural definition of marriage.
The Alliance Defending Freedom developed a prayer guide leading up to the Supreme Court hearings, and prayer is going to be very critical in the days to come, as the high court ponders the government's interest in preserving marriage - a decision is expected in early summer.  (Hear Andrew Walker of the Heritage Foundation on The Meeting House.)

1 - Easter Sunday gives rise to inspiration, innovation

Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday, is thought to be the most popular holiday for church attendance.  A new LifeWay Research survey taken prior to Easter weekend shows that attending church on Easter Sunday is not a cut-and-dry decision for everyone - even for self-identified Christians. 41 percent of Americans surveyed said they planned on attending an Easter worship, but 39 percent said they did not; 20 percent said they are undecided.   This makes the case for people inviting friends, neighbors, and family members to attend Easter services with them.  

And, churches across the country had special outreaches planned for Good Friday and/or Easter Sunday.  Here's a sampling of some of the creative ways that churches and ministry organizations were providing opportunities for people to hear the message of the cross and the empty tomb:

Beachfront services bring scores in Florida
The Christian Post reports on an Easter Sunday phenomenon at Rosemary Beach, Florida, a popular vacation spot in South Walton County, near Seaside.  A beachfront service has been increasing in attendance dramatically since its beginnings a few years ago.   Last year, between 1200 and 1500 people assembled in a green space near the beach.   What's going on in Rosemary Beach right now, according to Chapel at the Beach Pastor Mike Young, is a movement of increasing faith.

Preaching through film in prison
Prison Fellowship is using film to present the message of redemption through Christ to those who are incarcerated.   It is partnering with the producers of the movie, "Unconditional", and has scheduled two screenings of the film inside 2 Florida correction facilities during Easter weekend.
The events also feature Prison Fellowship CEO Jim Liske and "Papa Joe" Bradford, a former maximum security inmate now working to improve the lives of Nashville's at-risk kids.   His life is the inspiration behind the film.   (Hear "Papa Joe"'s story from The Meeting House.)

For years, Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, preached in prison for Easter Sunday - in fact, his last such appearance took place Easter weekend of 2011, his last round of Easter prison visits before his death in 2012.

Church takes service to a larger stage
The Rock Church in San Diego held a massive Good Friday service in the baseball stadium in that city, Petco Park. "We want to engage the community and be there to love and serve those in need," said Rock Church Senior Pastor Miles McPherson, the former NFL player who leads the fourth largest church in Southern California.

Church staff and volunteers set lofty goals for the event, which included a blood drive and food and clothing collection.  Ministries were present to provide prayer, support and encouragement to survivors of suicide, single parent families, blended families, those seeking counsel from prison ministries, and those who've experienced sexual abuse.  A care package ministry and home improvement ministries were also present.  

Alabama church re-enacts crucifixion scene
In Mobile, Alabama, Mount Hebron Church Ministries in north Mobile has re-enacted the crucifixion of Christ for the past several years.

Some of the men in the church volunteered to dress in red-stained white clothing and stand on a tiny ledge on a cross with their arms outstretched and wrists hanging by ropes.  They began at 9 a.m. and switched off every hour. At noon, members gathered for worship at the grassy lot off I-65 North near the church.  The church was scheduled to hold a large service at the University of South Alabama on Easter morning.

These are just a few of the innovative ways that people and churches are taking advantage of what I believe is an increased spiritual sensitivity leading up to and including Easter Sunday.   We have been given a unique opportunity during this season to reflect and help others reflect on the coming of Jesus to the world to pay the price for our sins.

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