Every Child Needs a Mom and a Dad—and so Did Jesus, Part 2

Integrity, Strength, and Safety: The Legacy of a Father

Joseph, although not the natural father [of Jesus], was the legal father and responsible for Jesus’ safety and well-being.
Sharon Beth Brani

Key point: The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and early years demonstrate forcefully that even though Jesus was God in the flesh, He needed an earthly father. Every other child born into this world is unlike Jesus in that he or she isn’t, and never will be, God. Yet each one, like Jesus, needs a dad.

All the articles in this series are available here.

“Joseph! Get up and take Jesus and His mother to Egypt, and remain there until you receive further instructions! King Herod is out to kill him!” The tone of the angel’s voice—not just his words—carried a special sense of urgency.1 Joseph was asleep when he received this message, because the angel appeared to him in a dream; but the young carpenter, who now also was a new husband and father, wasted no time in heeding it. Matthew, the Gospel writer who penned the Christmas story from Joseph’s perspective, tells us Joseph “took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,” and they stayed there until Herod had died. Then, significantly and somewhat surprisingly, Matthew added, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’”

Dream of Flight by Daniele Crespi, c. 1625

A Prophecy Fulfilled

The passage Matthew quoted is Hosea 11:1:

When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.

Noting that “Hosea 11:1…does not seem to be a prophecy in the sense of a prediction,” Bible scholar Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. observes that Matthew gave Hosea’s words a deeper understanding. Originally, Hosea was not speaking of—or was not aware that he was speaking of—the Messiah, but only of the nation of Israel. Matthew indicates that Hosea wrote of both. The Gospel writer

viewed this experience [of the flight to and return from Egypt] as Messiah being identified with the nation. There were similarities between the nation and the Son. Israel was God’s chosen “son” by adoption (Ex. 4:22), and Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son. In both cases the descent into Egypt was to escape danger and the return was important to the nation’s providential history. While Hosea’s statement was a historical reference to Israel’s deliverance, Matthew related it more fully to the call of the Son, the Messiah, from Egypt. In that sense, as Matthew “heightened” Hosea’s words to a more significant event—the Messiah’s return from Egypt, they were “fulfilled.”2

Let us not miss the truth that God used Joseph to bring about the fulfillment of Hosea’s prophetic word. As significant as this was, it represents only a small portion of Joseph’s contribution to the Christmas story and to the life of Jesus, his adopted Son.

A Child-King Protected—in One Instance After Another

This wasn’t the only time Joseph received a divine message in a dream; it actually was the second of four. Here are all four instances. With the dreams, we mark the phases of Joseph’s journey and his contributions of leadership and strength to his fugitive family.

The First Appearance: “Go Ahead and Marry Mary”

Matthew 1:20-21:

20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

Luke 1:26-38 and Matthew 1:18-25 provide the context for this appearance. Having become engaged or betrothed to Mary, Joseph discovered she was going to have a baby. Mary hadn’t been unfaithful to Joseph but was pregnant by the Holy Spirit—a once-in-history occurrence. Joseph, however, did not know this, although he knew he wasn’t the father. Thinking Mary must have become pregnant by another man, Joseph resolved to call off the wedding; but as a righteous and caring man he didn’t want to make things any harder for Mary than they already would be. He decided to divorce her quietly.

Joseph was in for a surprise! As “he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”


All of this was happening, Matthew states, to fulfill Isaiah’s prophetic word that a “virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” While Isaiah’s prophecy could have had an immediate fulfillment that didn’t involve a woman who never had been intimate with a man, it clearly had its ultimate fulfillment in Mary, who became pregnant as a virgin in the absolute sense.

Joseph not only married Mary, but he refrained from having sexual relations with her until after Jesus had been born. About this, Matthew is explicit. While only a few would understand this at the time, the details of this couple’s circumstances would testify that, without any question, Jesus had been born of a virgin!

The Second Appearance: “Flee to Egypt!”

Matthew 2:13:

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

Luke 2:1-38 and Matthew 2:1-18 provide the context for this second angelic appearance to Joseph. Mary and Joseph had made their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem to participate in the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Soon after they arrived in Bethlehem, the baby arrived. Angels told nearby shepherds about Jesus’ birth, and they made their way to the stable to pay homage to Him.

The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds by Govert Flinck, 1639

Eight days later, Jesus was circumcised and officially received His name. At least 41 days following His birth, Mary and Joseph took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to complete Mary’s purification ceremony. It was here that Simeon and Anna encountered Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

After these events, the family made their way back to the place they were staying in Bethlehem. Probably several months after that, wise men, following a star, made their way to Jerusalem looking for the newborn King.

The Magi Journeying by James Tissot, c. 1890

King Herod heard of their search. He felt threatened by all the talk about a newborn king. Herod learned from Jewish scholars that Bethlehem was to be the place of the Messiah’s birth. He asked the wise men to return to him after they had found the new King so he could go and worship him as well. Needless to say, he was lying! With the aid of an especially bright star, the wise men found Jesus in Bethlehem, and they gave him expensive gifts. The wise men also received a divine message from God in a dream, one in which they were instructed travel home by a way that bypassed Herod. At this point, Joseph also was directed in his sleep to flee with his family down to Egypt.

The wise men heeded their warning, and when Herod realized he’d been ignored, he was livid. He arranged for all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger to be slaughtered. Talk about feeling threatened! With Herod’s massacre of the boys of Bethlehem, one of Jeremiah’s prophecies was fulfilled. The prophet had written,

A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.

“Scholars” who have been reluctant to believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible have pointed out that no extra-biblical historian records Herod’s murderous tirade against the young boys of Bethlehem. Keep in mind, though, that the absence of a parallel account outside of Scripture does not mean the event did not occur. The truth is that this is exactly the kind of thing that Herod was known for, and it is reasonable to assume other similar actions on Herod’s part overshadowed his slaughter of innocent Bethlehem boys in historians’ accounts.

The Flight to Egypt by Carl Spitzweg, 1875-79

Originally, Jeremiah’s words referred to children’s deaths at the time of the Babylonian captivity centuries earlier. Once again, innocent children were perishing. Moreover, many thought of Rachel as Israel’s mother. She could not be comforted and wept without restraint.3

Against this backdrop, Joseph was told how he, in his specific situation, could most effectively do what men are divinely equipped to do for their wives and children—protect them from impending danger. Joseph obeyed, and considering that we’re talking about his protecting Jesus from life-threatening dangers, the importance of his role cannot be overstated. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) essentially acknowledged this, stating that Joseph was an essential part of God’s plan to send Jesus to earth as a human being, and a baby in particular. Had Mary not been married, she would have been stoned by the Jews. Moreover, Aquinas affirmed, in the years He grew from boyhood to manhood, Jesus needed the love, care, and protection that only a human father could give.

Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de La Tour, sometime in the 1640s

Joseph was told to do the very thing men are divinely equipped to do for their wives and children—protect them from impending danger.

The Third Appearance: “It’s OK to Return to Israel”

Matthew 2:19-20

19 Now when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”

The context for this appearance is Matthew 2:16-21. Feeling threatened by the recent birth of the One people were calling the “King of the Jews” and having become angry over the wise men’s failure to return to report to him, Herod, as we have noted, “sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” Because Joseph had heeded the angel’s warning and had fled with his family to Egypt, Jesus, and Mary as well, were safe. After Herod died in 4 BC, Joseph received divine instructions in a third pivotal dream. The angel told the man who had become Jesus’ father by adoption, “Arise, take the young child and His mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the young Child’s life are dead.”

The Return of the Holy Family from Egypt by Jacob Jordaens, around 1616

How long did this special family stay in Egypt before returning to Israel? Putting the pieces together regarding Jesus’ age helps us answer this question. In all likelihood, the Savior was born between 6 and 5 BC, with a time frame of between 6 and 4 BC also possible. This timetable fits, if not with pinpoint accuracy, then loosely; one biblical historian says the family’s flight to Egypt likely took place 2 or 3 years before Herod died (in 4 BC) and that their stay in that land “must have lasted some years.” Certainly Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in Egypt long enough for their departure to fulfill Hosea 11:1, the prophecy we cited earlier through which God declared, “out of Egypt I called my son.”

Once again, we see Joseph’s strength manifested in his protecting the members of his family, especially his adopted Son. We see his decisive leadership as well, a leadership that put the members of his family first and was dedicated primarily to their well-being. Joseph was a man fulfilling roles given to husbands and fathers by divine design.


Joseph’s strength was manifested in his protecting his adopted Son. It also was manifested in his effective leadership, a leadership that put the members of his family first and was dedicated primarily to their well-being. 

The Fourth Appearance: “Avoid Living too Close to Archelaus”

Matthew 2:22:

But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he turned aside into the region of Galilee.

Matthew 2:16-23 showcases the context for this, Joseph’s fourth angelic encounter. The danger had not completely subsided following Herod’s death. Herod’s son Archelaus ascended to the throne, and he, too, was exceedingly cruel. Wisely, having heard of Archelaus’s ascent to power and having received a divine warning in a dream, Joseph returned to Israel—but not to Bethlehem. Instead, he and Mary made their home in Nazareth, a town located in the region of Galilee in the northern part of Israel. This was Joseph’s hometown, the place from which he and Mary had traveled to Bethlehem just before Jesus was born.

The family’s moving to Nazareth fulfilled yet another Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah: “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.’” These specific words

were not directly spoken by any Old Testament prophet, though several prophecies come close to this expression. Isaiah said the Messiah would be “from [Jesse’s] roots” like “a Branch” (Isa. 11:1). “Branch” is the Hebrew Word neser, which has consonants like those in the word “Nazarene” and which carry the idea of having an insignificant beginning.4

Born in a stable and placed in an animal’s feeding trough, Jesus, we can see, did have an insignificant beginning by conventional standards. However, appearances often deceive. He would grow up to live a sinless life and to offer Himself as a sacrifice that would pay the price for human sin. What Jesus would accomplish would be infinitely significant and consequential.

At this point we cannot help but connect the dots! Joseph was involved in Jesus’ life in ways that made it possible for his adopted Son to live beyond childhood. Thus, it’s difficult to see how Jesus’ adopted father’s role could have been any more significant than it was.

Joseph’s Dream by Rembrandt van Rijn, about 1645

Summary and Conclusion

In the New Testament, we hear only a tiny bit more about Joseph after he and Mary returned to Jerusalem in search of Jesus and found Him in the temple conversing with the teachers of the law. This information is contained in the first of these two statements made by Luke. Luke referred to both Mary and Joseph with the pronoun them. He also made an important but sweeping, general statement about the years that remained in Jesus’ life before He entered His public ministry. It would be the last thing Luke would write about Jesus’ youth.

51 Then He [Jesus] went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was subject to them, but His mother kept all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

What happened to Joseph between this event and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry? Most likely, he died at some point during the “silent years” of Jesus’ life. Yet Joseph’s role in God’s plan to pave the way for the salvation of humanity is both critical and foundational. For starters, as we have said, Joseph’s actions protected Jesus from life-threatening dangers. Furthermore, it is crystal clear that “Joseph was a devout follower of the customs of his religion with his observance of Passover.…[It also is apparent that] Joseph made certain of good spiritual training for the children in his family. Joseph proved his integrity and willingness to be obedient to God’s direction and guidance.” Therefore, Joseph’s influence enhanced Jesus’ increase “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).

Holy Family with the Holy Spirit by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1675-1682

That’s just the beginning. Much, much more can be said about both Mary and Joseph and what their roles in Jesus’ life imply about the needs of children everywhere, in every culture.

The events leading up to and surrounding Jesus’ birth demonstrate that even God’s Son needed a male and a female parent when He came into the world and during His early years. Although He was God, Jesus also was a human being who made His entrance into the world, not as a powerful king, but as a helpless baby—in the same way as all of us have made our entrances. Inherent to healthy journeys through babyhood, toddlerhood, and childhood—stages all people go through—are a mother’s loving nurture and a father’s protective strength. We readily acknowledge that in a fallen world not every child can have both of these positive influences. Even so, the Christmas story demonstrates that even Jesus needed them.

Inherent to healthy journeys through babyhood, toddlerhood, and childhood—stages all people go through—are a mother’s loving nurture and a father’s protective strength. We readily acknowledge that in a fallen world not every child can have both of these positive influences. Even so, the Christmas story demonstrates that even Jesus needed them. If He needed them, then so does every child.

If He needed them, then so does every child. To the greatest degree possible, individuals and society must work to affirm and uphold the essential contributions of both moms and dads in parenting—for the benefit of of both children and society at large.

All Word Foundations Christmas posts and articles are available here.


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


1A few dramatic liberties have been taken in this account, but the substance is true to the original.

2Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament edition, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., (Victor Books, 1983), 22-23.

3Barbieri, 23.


top image: In his painting Anno Domini (1883) British artist Edwin Long depicts the arrival of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in Egypt.


Echoes of the Reformation

We must realize that the Reformation world view leads in the direction of government freedom. But the humanist world view with inevitable certainty leads in the direction of statism. This is so because humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state.
Francis Schaeffer

Key point: As in Martin Luther’s day, if one’s conscience is held captive to God’s Word, then to go against it is neither right nor safe.


Martin Luther is believed by many to have posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31, 1517. Even if he didn’t nail them there, his list of concerns about Catholic Church practices originally was written in Latin, but it was translated into German and disseminated throughout Luther’s home country within a scant two weeks. The printing press, which had been invented less than 100 years earlier, made this possible. By the end of 1517, all of Europe had access to the 95 Theses in pamphlet form.

The disenchantment and frustration with the church over its abuses grew even more intense as a growing number of people learned of Dr. Luther’s objections. Within a few years, the Protestant Reformation had become a widespread movement.

Frederick the Wise of Saxony

On June 15, 1520, Pope Leo X issued a papal bull, or edict, refuting Luther’s teachings and demanding that he renounce them. The Wittenberg professor refused, and a few months later, on December 10, publicly burned a copy of the Pope’s declaration. On January 3, 1521, Luther was excommunicated in Rome.

Luther had a ally in his powerful sovereign, Elector of Saxony Frederick the Wise. Frederick demanded a hearing for Luther. An assembly, called a “Diet,” was scheduled for April 17  in the town of Worms (pronounced “Verms”), Germany.

Two Searing Questions

Martin Luther was a controversial figure—loved my many, yet hated by many others. On the first day of the Diet, Luther was asked two questions.

  • Were the books and other writings on display before the assembly his? He admitted they were.
  • Would he or would he not recant? The renegade professor asked for a day to consider the matter, and his request was granted.
John Huss at the Council of Constance

Luther knew his life was at stake in these proceedings, even though he had been granted safe passage (transport) by Emperor Charles V. One hundred years before, John Huss had attempted to address similar concerns in the church and had been burned at the stake. What would happen to Luther if he, like Huss, were to refuse to renounce his views? Huss, too, had been guaranteed safe passage to the Council of Constance, where he was tried, found to be a heretic, and condemned to die. Obviously, Huss’s guarantee of safety was withdrawn.

Emperor Charles V

The next day Luther again stood before Charles V. Would he now recant? Luther explained that his books and other writings could not be placed in a single category. Even his critics, Luther said, welcomed some of them, and he would not retract what he’d said in those. A second category of works addressed abuses that were occurring within the Church. Luther contended he could not change his mind about these without risking a continuation of the very abuses he had opposed. Finally, other writings, he said, were about certain people. Although he expressed regret for the harsh tone of some of these, he did not retract any of the teachings they contained.

Here I Stand

Challenged at this point to give a direct positive or negative answer to the question of whether or not he would recant, Luther is said to have declared,

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

Even if Martin Luther didn’t utter these words exactly, they represent the substance of his response. Disorder erupted, and the Emperor brought the Diet’s proceedings for that day to an end. Officials were divided about what steps to take next, but on May 26, they issued an edict that branded Luther a heretic and banned his writings. Now he was an outlaw, and it generally was understood that he soon would be arrested and punished. Execution, of course, was a real possibility.

Luther, however, had gone into hiding before the Edict of Worms could be drawn up and published. Frederick the Wise of Saxony had arranged for the Wittenberg professor to be “kidnapped” and hidden at Wartburg Castle. It was there that Luther began translating the Greek New Testament into German. This volume would fan the flames of the Reformation as would no other book.

Luther’s Bible, 1534

Our Consciences Are Captive to God’s Word

The entire story is fascinating, and I urge you to learn more about the Protestant Reformation. For now, let’s reflect on Martin Luther’s refusal to recant at the Diet of Worms. Read again his declaration.

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well-known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.

This is the kind of conviction we need to see in 21st America today. Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Pastor Emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago, said as much on the morning of October 8, 2017 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, in this presentation. Here is an audio clip of his words.

I have good news for Dr. Lutzer, although I must hasten to qualify it.

  • The qualifier, of course, is that we do not have enough people like these! We need many more—and we need many more Christians who comprehend and appreciate the stands these Christian statesmen are taking. Also, we need many more who will stand with them.

Just as the Word of God guided Martin Luther to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, so too has Scripture guided these men and women to a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ as it relates to, among other things, the true meaning of marriage. You see, marriage is all about the gospel!

“But wait!” someone will object. These people and their convictions are controversial! Yes, they are. Martin Luther was controversial too, and so was Jesus!

Controversy is not the issue, but adherence to the truth of God’s Word.

I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. God help me. Amen. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.
—Martin Luther—

Remember—especially if it is held captive by the Bible, it is neither right nor safe to go against one’s conscience.

If we as believers will stand together on the Word of God, speaking the truth lovingly and with conviction but refusing to renounce any of our core beliefs, we just might have another Reformation on our hands!


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Behold the Irony, Part 2

Tolerance once referred to mutual respect among parties who disagreed; but today it’s a one-way street that permits movement in a direction Christians cannot travel without violating their deeply held beliefs.

If the government can shut down a family farmer just because of the religious views he expresses on Facebook—by denying him a license to do business and serve fresh produce to all people—then no American is free.
—ADF Legal Counsel Kate Anderson (pictured above), referring to her client, Steve Tennes—

Part 1 is available here.
Read summaries of all the articles in this series here.


Key point: Do you believe marriage is between one man and one woman? Do you seek to run your business according to biblical principles? If so, you shouldn’t be surprised when leftists threaten your business and livelihood. They will try to use government force against you—to coerce you or to exclude you from doing business altogether.

Last time we pointed out that the “progressive” left holds positions that, when fairly and objectively examined, don’t pass muster. Consider: leftist’s versions of tolerance and equality essentially are one-way streets; they actually are intolerant and unequal. In a society like ours that cherishes individual freedom, moral restraints are essential to true liberty. Leftists will have none of this. In fact, they want to coerce everyone, not just to allow moral license, but also to celebrate it. We see this clearly in many places, including two legal battles in which Alliance Defending Freedom is directly involved.

Jack Phillips Is a Cake Artist

We’ll first consider Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Jack Phillips is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado. Jack celebrated a landmark anniversary in 2014—40 years in business.

Two years earlier—on July 19, 2012—Charlie Craig and David Mullins, a same-sex couple who claimed they already had been married in Massachusetts, wanted to celebrate the occasion with a reception in Colorado. They visited Jack’s bakery and asked him to bake them a wedding cake. Jack politely turned them down. “Sorry, guys,” he said, “I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” He also sought to assure them, “I’ll make you a birthday cake, shower cake, I’ll sell you cookies and brownies. I just don’t do cakes for same-sex weddings.” Keep in mind that at the time, same-sex marriage was not recognized in the state of Colorado.

Writing for Breitbart News, legal expert Ken Klukowski observed, “Phillips is an Evangelical Christian who holds to the belief that marriage is between a man and woman. When Phillips bakes a wedding cake, he interprets it as participating in the wedding celebration.…”

In other words, Jack is a “cake artist.” He lends his artistic talent to enhance and affirm the wedding. Since he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, it makes sense, therefore, that his conscience would not allow him to participate in an event celebrating a same-sex union.

Mullins complained on social media about having been turned down by Jack, and soon he and his partner were filing charges against Phillips with the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Colorado law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but Phillips argues that this is a religious liberty case involving his right to free speech, which is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, the “supreme law of the land.”

Jack has received death threats and hateful comments. Even his family members have been targets of hate. Yet he also has received an outpouring of support, even from some who identify as gay.

Of the threats, Jack has said,

They cannot do anything to me that [God] doesn’t allow. So I just get up in the morning. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and there’s not one day that I’ve gotten up and thought, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to go to work today.’ I love going to work. Always have. That doesn’t change it.

I’ve been doing this for 40 years and there’s not one day that I’ve gotten up and thought, ‘Oh, man, I don’t want to go to work today.’ I love going to work. Always have.
—Jack Phillips—

In December of 2013, May of 2014, and August of 2015, a judge, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, and the Colorado Court of Appeals, respectively, all ruled against Phillips. Eight months later, in April of 2016, The Colorado Supreme Court turned down Phillips’s request for an appeal. In July, Phillips’s attorneys asked the US Supreme Court hear the case, and on Monday, June 26, 2017, the Court agreed. Here is a timeline of events in Jack’s case.

Significantly, a summary of the relevant facts in the case by Alliance Defending Freedom notes,

In contrast to the ruling against Phillips, the commission found in 2015 that three other Denver cake artists were not guilty of creed discrimination when they declined a Christian customer’s request for a cake that reflected his religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

Steve Tennes Is an Apple Grower and Owner of Country Mill Farms

One of the attractions in the small town of Charlotte, Michigan, is Country Mill Farms. The house where its owner, Steve Tennes, grew up now is 150 years old—and in that same house today, Steve and his wife, Bridget, are bringing up five children of their own.

Steve and his family used to book weddings on their property. They would host about 45 annually, but in 2016 they stepped away completely from booking weddings. A same-sex couple asked Tennes to host their wedding, but because of his and his family’s deeply held beliefs about marriage, he declined. One of the women, Caitlin Ortis, took to Facebook to complain about having been turned down. She first shared her frustrations on social media in October of 2014 and subsequently published two additional posts carrying the same message. Her August, 2016 statements were heavily shared and gained a great deal of traction, prompting Steve and his family to change their policy. Steve did not hesitate to explain on Facebook his reason for the policy change.

Another income-producing venture in which the Tennes family has been involved is the East Lansing Farmers Market. Country Mill Farms made its first appearance there in 2010. After posting his convictions about marriage on Facebook, however, Tennes found himself and his business under pressure to back out of the farmers market. Writing for The Daily Signal, Fred Lucas reports that last year, Steve’s Facebook post on marriage drew a warning from an official more than 20 miles away in East Lansing, Michigan. If Tennes tried to sell his fruit at the city’s farmers market, he was told, it could incite protests.

No one showed up to protest that August day last summer, though, and Tennes continued selling organic apples, peaches, cherries, and pumpkins at the seasonal market until October, as he had done the six previous years.

That wasn’t the end of it, however. “Ultimately,” Steve explains, “The city developed a new policy to target and block our farm from further participation in their city-run farmers market.”

In March, Steve received a letter from East Lansing officials that stated,

It was brought to our attention that the Country Mill’s general business practices do not comply with East Lansing’s civil rights ordinances and public policy against discrimination as set forth in Chapter 22 of the City Code and outlined in the 2017 market vendor guidelines.

The letter went on to say, “As such, Country Mill’s presence as a vendor is prohibited.”

Again, Charlotte is approximately 22 miles away from East Lansing; it is “well outside the city’s boundaries and beyond its jurisdiction.” Steve rightly asserts, “Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing.”

Our faith and beliefs on marriage and hosting weddings at our home and in our backyard of our farm have nothing to do with the city of East Lansing.
—Steve Tennes, owner of Country Mill Farms in Charlotte, Michigan—


Alliance Defending Freedom is representing Tennes in court, challenging East Lansing’s policy that excluded him from doing business at the farmers market, simply because of his beliefs about marriage. Hear him in his own words, from an interview Alliance Defending Freedom conducted with Steve and his wife on the July 20 edition of ADF’s weekly podcast, “Freedom Matters.” The following is a 3-minute, 40-second clip, but you can hear the entire program on this page. The first voice you’ll hear in the clip is that of podcast host Bob Trent.

What can we learn from these legal and cultural battles? Next time, we’ll draw some important conclusions from these cases and the events surrounding them.

You haven’t read anything yet!

Part 3 is available here.


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Behold the Irony, Part 1

Leftists Can’t Have It Both Ways, But that Won’t Keep Them from Trying

 We run carelessly to the precipice, after we have put something before us to prevent us seeing it.
Blaise Pascal

Key point: In the name of tolerance and freedom, the progressive left promotes bondage and tyranny—and many of them don’t even realize this is what they’re doing!

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.


While June has become the designated month for celebrating homosexuality in the United States and even beyond, in some locations other dates are scheduled. In the Netherlands, for example, Amsterdam Pride “is a citywide gay-festival held annually at the center of Amsterdam during the first week of August.” On August 5 of this year, in commemoration of the event, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines released this meme. It says, “It doesn’t matter who you click with. Happy #PrideAmsterdam.”

Click the image to enlarge.

One has to wonder if it even crossed the minds of officials at KLM how foolish this would make the airline look. Here are some of the responses I found online.

John Stonestreet of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview regularly does a one-minute commentary called “The Point.” The August 9 edition was titled “On Love and KLM Seatbelts.” Stonestreet declared,

Now, the message they were trying to convey with the seatbelt pairings was about love and sex, of course, not seatbelts. How they missed, with that headline “it doesn’t matter who you click with,” that only one of those pairs would actually click, and therefore only one pair would actually complete a seatbelt and save your life in case of disaster, is beyond me.

The other two pairs were (hmmm, what word should I use?), impotent to serve as seatbelts. Again, I’m not sure how they missed this key flaw in their image, which is, after all, the key flaw in the whole “love is love” movement.

So, how did KLM miss the obvious? Mr. Stonestreet himself, I believe, provides the answer. Note one more time the last sentence in his commentary. “Again, I’m not sure how they missed this key flaw in their image, which is, after all, the key flaw in the whole “love is love” movement.”

They missed the flaw in the graphic because it represents “the key flaw in the whole ‘love is love’ movement.” They can’t see that flaw, either!

They missed the flaw in the graphic because it represents “the key flaw in the whole ‘love is love’ movement.” They’re especially missing that one—and the truth is, they want to!

Spiritual Warfare

We are reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4.

[E]ven if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.

In his first letter to the Corinthian believers, the apostle also had written this.

14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

People have a natural inclination not to understand spiritual truths. Add to this the fact that once a person’s mind is blinded by “the god of this age,” and kept from understanding the gospel, he or she will have difficulty seeing and understanding a great deal more than the gospel—even certain things that ought to be obvious.

I am speaking in general terms here. God can overrule the forces of evil and open people’s eyes to a wide variety of insights. Thus, some may be able to see some of the specific things I’m highlighting in this series of articles without really understanding the gospel completely and fully. One doesn’t have to be a Christian to be an advocate of true religious liberty, but being a believer certainly should help. Generally speaking, though, the greater the animosity to God’s truth, the greater the blindness to other, related insights. We must not forget that the culture war is, at its core, a cosmic, spiritual battle.

As believers, we need to be keenly aware of what is happening in this battle. We need to be familiar with biblical teachings, of course. We need to pray, rely on the Holy Spirit, and be an active part of a local church. All these things are important. Moreover, like the “sons of Issachar” in 1 Chronicles 12:32, we must have a keen “understanding of the times.” Having this understanding, these men knew “what Israel ought to do.”

A Religion that Denies God

I believe we also can learn a great deal from a man who actually isn’t a Christian. Dennis Prager is a practicing Jew, but he understands more about what is happening in cultural and spiritual arenas than most Christians. Prager “nails it” in an article titled “The World’s Most Dynamic Religion Is….”

For the past century, Prager says, the religion that has gained the most traction in the world isn’t Christianity, Mormonism, or Islam. Rather, it is leftism.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of people have no awareness of the extent to which the left has captured people’s minds and hearts. Why? Their religion is so thoroughly secular that no one thinks of it as a religion at all. Yet it is a religion—one that opposes all traditional religions and religious values.

The most dynamic religion in the world over the past one hundred years has been leftism.
—Dennis Prager—

You have to understand how leftists think and operate. They act with great zeal to win new converts, and they have the media and all of society’s institutions to promote their views. They present their beliefs as conclusions reached by science, reason, and rational thinking. Who in his or her right mind would believe otherwise? The implication, and sometimes the overtly stated mantra, is that to disagree with leftist ideas is to be “anti-intellectual, anti-progress, anti-science, anti-minority and anti-reason”—and even stupid and mean.

Like any other religion, however, leftism is a belief system that requires faith—but this doesn’t keep leftists from being certain “that there is no other way to think.”

Despite all this, leftists sometimes, however unintentionally, reveal the weaknesses of what they believe. When they do, we are wise to “behold the irony” and learn all we can!

In our next two or three posts, we’ll examine two specific cases in which Alliance Defending Freedom is directly involved, and we’ll use these legal battles to unmask some significant ironies coming from the “progressive” left.

It will be an insightful journey! Be sure to return.

Part 2 is available here.

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

image credits:

Absolute Truth Really Is All About God

 Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 17

Consider the atheist who is outraged at seeing a violent murder on the ten o’clock news. He is very upset and hopes that the murderer will be punished for his wicked actions. But in his view of the world, why should he be angry? In an atheistic, evolutionary universe where people are just animals, murder is no different than a lion killing an antelope. But we don’t punish the lion! If people are just chemical accidents, then why punish one for killing another?…[Moreover, m]any atheists behave morally and expect others to behave morally as well. But absolute morality simply does not comport with atheism.
Dr. Jason Lisle

Truth always carries with it confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation regardless of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.
Francis Schaeffer

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

Part 16 is available here.

The Declaration of Independence begins with this insightful and profound statement:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

The acknowledgement of “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” is more than significant. The Founders affirmed the existence of a set of standards coming from God and reflected in nature, or the natural world. It’s true that the Declaration does not mention a specific God; the point of the document was not theological. Even more importantly, it was widely understood that this reference was to the God of the Bible. Our early leaders believed strongly in religious liberty. Even so, God’s existence is assumed, not argued—and equally assumed is the idea that laws, including principles that affirm human dignity and a set of standards of right and wrong, are an inherent part of the natural order of things. These standards originate from outside—and not from within—humanity and human reason.

Truth comes from outside human beings, not from within.

Writing for the Heritage Foundation, Mark David Hall addresses the question “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” He essentially answers by saying, “It depends on what is meant by ‘a Christian founding,’” but affirms the answer is yes if the phrase means biblical principles and ideas strongly influenced America’s architects. “I believe,” Hall writes, “that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.” He cites five specific examples, including these.

  1. Their faith taught them that humans were sinful.…
  2. They firmly believed that God ordained moral standards, that legislation should be made in accordance with these standards, and that moral laws took precedence over human laws.

The idea of absolute truth, therefore, was an important principle informing and guiding America’s Founders as they led the Colonies to separate from Great Britain and as they drafted the US Constitution. Although it didn’t originate in the United States, the affirmation of absolute truth can rightly be called an American ideal.

Last week we highlighted five specific characteristics of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients, and we used Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman as representative examples. Against the backdrop of America’s founding, I want to underscore a point we dare not miss from our previous discussion. Here I am elaborating on last week’s fifth point, the importance of affirming and living by the right principles.

Blaine Adamson, Darold and Barronelle Stutzman, Kelvin Cochran, Evelyn and Donald Knapp, and Jack Phillips

Adamson, Phillips, Stutzman, and others are upholding principles that originated outside themselves. They are not willing to risk everything to have the right to follow their own feelings on a matter. If an individual is going to risk everything, he or she ought to risk it for something more certain than that! ADF clients are upholding the truth—absolute truth that reflects universal standards of right and wrong. These arise from God and His character.

God is the Architect of all that is, including morality and ethics.
Ancient of Days by William Blake (1757-1827)1

Yet their convictions run even deeper than that. Their beliefs are rooted, not just in ideals or principles, but in God Himself and their sense of accountability to Him. Last week’s three-minute audio clip contained clear evidence of this from the perspective of each client. This one-minute excerpt presents that core evidence. You’ll hear Adamson first, Phillips second, and Stutzman third.

To be clear, an individual doesn’t have to believe in God to believe in moral principles or absolute truth. However, the existence of absolutes is best explained by the existence of God, as apologist J. Warner Wallace has pointed out.

Confronted with the hostility, pressure, and expressions of hate that ADF clients surely must experience, these courageous men and women are not following their feelings. They’re not following their opinions either, although their opinions align with what they know to be true.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients aren’t following their feelings or opinions. Rather, they’re putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth.

They are putting everything on the line because of what they know to be true and because they are compelled to obey the God who is the source of all truth. It’s all the more reason to follow their examples. As Barrnelle Stutzman affirms, “you can’t be lukewarm” in your commitment to Christ.

What have you risked lately because you’re a Christian?


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.

1Use of Blake’s work is not to be construed as an endorsement of his religious views. Ancient of Days does, however, symbolically highlight a number of divine traits that are consistent with the authority and creative power of the God of orthodox Christianity, which we do affirm.

top image: portion of an 1869 US postage stamp commemorating the presentation of the Declaration of Independence

Modern Heroes: The Clients of Alliance Defending Freedom

Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes, Part 16

When God looks for someone to accomplish His purposes on earth, what kind of man or woman is He looking for?…To begin with, we see that God uses ordinary people.…Who else does He use? He uses truly spiritual people. I’m not speaking here of some pompous “holier-than-thou” type, but the real thing. The most spiritual people I have met have been very down to earth.…[Moreover, w]hen God looks for people He wants to use, He also looks for faithful people.
Greg Laurie

View summaries of all the articles in this series here.

A young couple on their way home from church wanted to make sure their young son understood at least something about what the pastor had said in his sermon. “Eric,” asked the dad, “do you remember what Pastor Jack preached about today?”

Eric beamed. “Uh-huh. He preached on the Bible verse that says, “Many are cold, and a few are frozen.”1

Unfortunately, this description applies to a great many churchgoers today. Even so, you won’t find any frozen—or even cold—folks among the clients being served by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Senior legal counsel Jim Campbell has emphasized that ADF’s clients aren’t “super Christians.” Rather, God calls ordinary people who love Him, and He enables them to take courageous stands for truth and religious liberty. Moreover, Campbell says, the call to protect religious freedom is a call to everyone.

Here’s an illustration that helps us understand. When artist paints a beautiful picture, no one says, “Wow! What a great brush that artist used!” In a similar way, God gets the credit when He uses His people to contend for His truth before a watching world. Even so, ADF clients still have a lot to teach us through the examples they offer and the faithfulness they demonstrate.

The call to protect religious freedom is a call to everyone.
—Jim Campbell—

How is the faithfulness of Alliance Defending Freedom’s clients manifested? I’ll name five specific ways. These overlap, but each is worthy of mentioning as a distinctive trait. Even though I’ll draw from a variety of sources, all of the characteristics I’ll highlight here are evident in these three ADF videos that tell the stories of clients Blaine Adamson, Jack Phillips, and Barronelle Stutzman. You also can hear each of them in that order in this three-minute audio clip, compiled from four different ADF videos.2

The Kentucky Court of Appeals sided with Adamson on May 12 (also go here), but its ruling may not be the end of the story.

Blaine Adamson of Hands-On Originals in Lexington, Kentucky

Phillips and Stutzman thus far have lost their legal battles. Phillips currently is waiting to hear if the US Supreme Court will hear his case, and Stutzman has said she will ask the Supreme Court to consider hers, as well.

Neither Frozen nor Even Cold

Just what are ADF clients like? First, they have passion about their work and about serving others in it. They love people, and they find great satisfaction in serving them. They also do excellent work in their respective professions. It’s common for ADF clients to be accused of being hateful, but Jack Phillips has said, “You don’t get into the birthday business and the party business if you’re a hater, if you don’t like people. I love people.”

Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado

Second, ADF clients have a right sense of purpose. They live their lives to glorify God, and an important part of honoring Him is serving people. When The Daily Signal asked Barronelle Stutzman what is the best part of her job as a florist, she said, “My customers and being creative.” She didn’t arrange flowers for the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend, she said, “because my faith teaches me that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington

Isaiah 41:10 is her favorite Bible verse, and she has no regrets. You won’t see any evidence of animosity, either. Barronelle says if the homosexual man who is suing her walked through the door of her business today, she would hug him, catch up on what’s happening in his life, and continue to serve him. You can tell she really means it!

Blaine says, “I want God to find joy in what we do and how we work, how we treat our employees, and the messages we print. So if someone walks in and says, ‘Hey, I want you to help promote something,’ I can’t promote something that I know goes against what pleases Him.”

Jack says baking a cake for a same-sex wedding would send a statement that says “we don’t want God to be part of our lives except for on Sunday. No, we want Him to run our lives…every day in any way that He wants.”

Third, ADF clients have the right perspective. Taking the long view, they refuse to walk the path of least resistance today.

ADF clients remind us of the heroes of the faith named in Hebrews 11, who, by the way, also were very ordinary and imperfect people. Consider Moses, who initially offered a wide range of excuses when God called Him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Yet the inspired writer of Hebrews says of Moses, “By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). We can say something very similar about Blaine, Jack, and Barronelle.

Jack has declared, “God does everything according to his plan. And so nothing is a coincidence.… I’ve come to the realization that God does what he wants to do and uses who he wants to use, however he wants.” Is the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop judgmental? Not at all! He really doesn’t have a holier-than-thou attitude. One Bible passage that encourages him is Titus 3:3-7, which “says that at one time we too were foolish and disobedient, deceived, enslaved to all kinds of passions and pleasures. I was in that boat too,” he adds, but God “redeemed me through his son.”

And take note! This is important! ADF clients don’t just have the right perspective about their own situations, but also the right point of view about the world, life, people, relationships, and the rest of reality. They see life through the clear lens of biblical teaching. C. S. Lewis expressed this well when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
—C. S. Lewis—

Fourth, the men, women, and young people ADF serves have the right priorities. What are some biblical priorities that should guide our lives? Dr. Mark Corts recommends these four—and we see all of them in Blaine, Jack, Barronelle, and others.

  • The unseen over the seen. When Abram and Lot, Abram’s nephew, had to separate, Lot chose what he saw—the well-watered plain of Jordan. Enticed by what he saw, Lot missed the importance of what he didn’t see—the moral depravity of nearby Sodom and Gomorrah (see 13:1-13). Later he would pay a heavy price for his choice.
  • The eternal over the temporal. As he led God’s people out of Egypt, Moses invested his life in doing God’s will and shunned sin’s fleeting, temporary pleasures (see 11:24-25).
  • Quality over quantity. In Judges 7:1-7, God cut Gideon’s army down from 32,000 men to 300 and then used that small number to win an important battle over the Midianties.
  • The difficult over the easy. In recommending that God’s people take Canaan, Joshua and Caleb gave a minority report and countered the fearful advice of the ten other spies. It isn’t easy to go against the crowd, but because they did, of those 20 or more years of age, Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land, even as everyone else died (see 13; 14:1-10,26-30).

Fifth and finally (even though this isn’t by any means an exhaustive list), in one ADF client after another, we see men and women who affirm and live by the right principles. For much of this year, through a series of articles, we’ve been “Contending for the Recognition of Absolutes.” This post stands as a part of that series.

You see, ADF clients are showing us and the rest of the world how to embrace absolute truth without being absolutists, people who want to shove their views down everyone else’s throats. These champions of liberty are taking the stands they are taking because they see the world clearly from a biblical perspective and have resolved to follow the God of the Bible. They recognize that right and wrong are part of the real world, and they simply want to be able to do what they believe is right. Put another way, they, like everyone else, just want the freedom to live their lives according to their beliefs. They therefore are taking appropriate steps to resist having the views of secularism and relativism shoved down their own throats!

ADF clients are showing us and the rest of the world how to embrace absolute truth without being absolutists, people who want to shove their views down everyone else’s throats. They simply don’t want to have the views of secularism rammed down their own throats!

An important question arises at this point. When a Christian business owner refuses, even politely, to perform a service at a same-sex wedding or to do a job that would affirm homosexuality or something else directly in conflict with biblical teaching—how does such a refusal reflect Christ’s love? Here’s the answer. It never is

loving to participate in a lie, which is exactly what Stutzman…and many others are now being told they must do. Pray for an increasing number of pastors to have courage to publicly stand with these believers and to explain to their people the importance of biblical marriage.

Actually, performing any service that directly or officially affirms a falsehood demonstrates a lack of love—and dishonors Christ. Of course, it never is fun to take an unpopular stand on behalf of the truth. It’s tough to be misunderstood. Yet, contrary to conventional wisdom, such stands can have a long-range positive effect on people and the culture. In a previous discussion of Barronelle’s case, we cited an important lesson from history.

The first Christians were accused of many things, including cannibalism, atheism, and a lack of patriotism—and that’s just three of the items on a ten-item list. If any people ever were misunderstood, the early Christians were! Yet, according to Pastor Greg Laurie, “they came to be known as those who turned their world upside down.” He must have been thinking of Acts 17:6.

Examples to Follow

With this post, I commend to you the examples of ADF clients Blane Adamson, Jack Phillips, Barronelle Stutzman, and others. Let’s cultivate in our own lives the traits we’ve seen in them. They encourage us to

  • have passion about our work and about serving others through it,
  • maintain a right sense of purpose in our everyday lives and seek to glorify God in all we do,
  • maintain the right perspective by becoming and remaining worldview Christians,
  • cultivate and live according to biblical priorities, and
  • uphold the principles of absolute truth and contend for the recognition of absolutes in the public square.

We don’t have to become ADF clients to do these things—but if we do them, I guarantee we will avoid becoming frozen churchgoers.

We’ll even avoid growing cold.

A Helpful Resource for Creative Professionals
Alliance Defending Freedom offers a helpful resource to all creative professionals. Get your free copy of Create Freely from this page.

Part 15 is available here.

Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.


1In Matthew 22:14 Jesus declared, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

2The videos used in the audio clip can be seen here, here, here, and here.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Christians Must Stand with Barronelle Stutzman—for the Very Same Reason the Left Is Obsessed with Crushing Her

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
attributed to Reformation leader Martin Luther


A condensed version of this article is available here.

Luke 14:25 says of Jesus, “Now great multitudes went with Him.” Apparently, at this point in His ministry, Jesus had quite a following. Probably not all of these individuals were committed to Him, but they at least were curious—and their numbers were plentiful. Why, then, would Jesus do what He did next? Beginning in verse 25, the passage goes on to say,

And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish’? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. 34 “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Again, why would Jesus challenge the people in this way? Weren’t things going well enough? Surely His presentation would cause some, and probably many, to turn away. Why would He want to ruin a good thing? You’d think He’d at least wait until later to deliver this kind of message! We see that He offered a similar challenge to the man we often call the rich young ruler.

Hardship Foretold

Twenty-first century American Christianity tends to resist saying or doing anything that would bring down its numbers, but we need to understand that Jesus simply was being honest. If you think following Jesus will be easy, think again. Elsewhere, Jesus told His disciples,

18 “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

One individual who understands the meaning of these words experientially is Barronelle Stutzman, the Richland, Washington florist who is being sued for everything she owns because she politely turned down the opportunity to use her talent at the same-sex wedding of a longtime friend. We have highlighted her case in several Word Foundations posts (for examples, go here and here). This past Thursday, February 16, the Supreme Court of Washington issued a unanimous, nine to nothing ruling against Barronelle. Never mind that the left has exercised its right to refuse to perform services because of the political and moral convictions it espouses (you can read about examples here, here, and here). The left simply cannot allow anyone to disagree with its own beliefs about sexuality and marriage—or about anything else it deems important, for that matter—and get away with it. We should note, of course, that not everyone in the LGBT community holds this perspective (also go here), but militant activists and the prevailing culture do.

The Appalling Silence of the Church

On the very same day the ruling was issued, Barronelle appeared with her attorney, Kristen Waggoner, on Line of Fire, the radio program of Dr. Michael Brown. You can download the entire program here. Also, you can listen to the portion of the show where Brown interviewed Stutzman and Waggoner here. Dr. Brown wrote an article about the ruling on February 16 as well. He declared,

There is only one thing more appalling than the Washington Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling against religious liberty today. It is the silence of Christian leaders across America, leaders who choose convenience over confrontation, leaders who would rather be popular than prophetic, leaders who prefer the favor of people over the favor of the God. Shame on these silent leaders. Today is a day to stand.…

Friends, what [we are] witnessing today is a breathtaking abuse of power, an extreme overreach by the government, a shocking example of LGBT activism out of control, yet over the next 7 days, church services will come and go without a word being spoken, and over the next 48 hours, the Christian blogosphere will remain relatively quiet. How can this be?

Dr. Brown asks a very important question. Why would church leaders and other Christians avoid talking about this issue? Perhaps the answer is tied to the reason we would wonder why in the world Jesus would tell His inquirers just how difficult it would be to become and remain one of His committed followers.

The reasons for the silence among churches and Christians include fear of intimidation, the desire to avoid controversy, a fear of losing people because of having offended them, and a desire to “stick to preaching the gospel.” In this post I want to address some of these issues and thereby challenge Christian leaders and laymen to stand publicly with Barronelle Stutzman.

Let’s examine four realities.

Costly Discipleship

First, Jesus wanted everyone following Him to know that for true disciples, a cost was involved. As a simple example, consider repentance, which Jesus indicated is essential for salvation. Also look back and read the passage of Scripture we cited when we started. Are we unwilling to challenge people with the full truth of the gospel? Perhaps more to the point, are we unwilling to bear any cost ourselves?

Are we unwilling to bear any of the costs associated with being a disciple of Christ?

We certainly can do nothing to earn salvation, but I’m not talking about doing anything to be saved. I’m talking about what we do because we have been saved. If we claim to be Christians, then according to our own professions, we are willing to identify with Jesus Christ. Barronelle Stutzman determined she had to draw the line at the point of marriage, because of what marriage is. It is not at all farfetched to say that Barronelle’s unwillingness to arrange flowers for a same-sex “wedding” represents a resolve to stand with Christ and identify with Him and with the God of the Bible. Marriage, the lifetime union of one man and one woman, was designed by the Creator to promote order, companionship, nurture of the next generation, and individual and societal cohesiveness and stability. In addition, if all of that weren’t enough, it’s also a picture of Christ and the church. Again, Barronelle is taking a stand at the point of marriage. Are we now going to cop out at this same point? For the professing Christian, this makes absolutely no sense.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
—Ephesians 5:25-27—

Consider the following declarations, presented in the probable order in which Jesus gave them.1 You can go here to see all of them printed on one page.

Matthew 7:21,24-27; Luke 6:46-49
Matthew 10:37-39
Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 9:23-26
Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:57-62

Note especially Mark 8:38: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” About marriage, Jesus spoke very explicitly (see Matthew 19:1-6 and Mark 10:1-9). Thus, of these words about marriage we are warned by Jesus Himself not to be ashamed.

Misplaced Priorities

Second, a church leader or a Christian layperson might remain silent because his or her priorities are out of whack—and here I’m being very serious. In a previous post subtitled “Eight Menacing Trends in the American Evangelical Church,” we elaborated on the following misplaced priorities. We mentioned this post in a recent article but didn’t quote from it. There’s much more to the article than the list, but here we will quote the points on the list without elaboration. Please read the original article for more information.

  1. The church has focused on attracting people and keeping people, and it has failed to challenge them.
  2. The church has equated loving people with not offending them.
  3. The church has emphasized God’s love to the point of effectively neglecting His holiness and wrath.
  4. The church has endeavored to win converts and failed to make disciples.
  5. The church has upheld the benefits of salvation and avoided talking about its demands.
  6. The church has presented Christianity in terms of its implications for individuals alone and overlooked its benefits for the culture.
  7. While recognizing that Jesus was compassionate, loving, and kind, the church has largely ignored the fact that He was controversial.
  8. The church has failed to understand and acknowledge that the followers of Christ are at war with the forces of evil.

Let me be clear. I absolutely am sympathetic with church leaders who are concerned that if the church is not careful, it can come across as hateful and mean to unchurched people, including gays, lesbians, and other members of the LGBT community. Christians always are without excuse for being insensitive, unkind, or hateful to anyone, period. My point here, however, is that even when the church is careful, it still will be perceived by some as being insensitive, unkind, and hateful. Why? Because the gospel itself is offensive: “It is inherently offensive because it exposes sinners as guilty before a holy God.” There’s no way around this, and looking for ways around it constitutes an attempt, however unintentional, to water down the truth of the gospel. Failing to present the truth about God’s holiness and wrath helps no one, and in fact, it is quite harmful.

Marriage and the Gospel

Third, Barronelle Stutzman’s case underscores the truth that in the battle over natural marriage, the gospel is at stake. Here I am not saying that the gospel can be changed or manipulated by those who oppose it or by anyone else. No, the gospel is what it is because it has been divinely written and orchestrated, and because it is divinely offered to humanity. Nothing can or ever will change this.

Here’s what I am saying. When we as Christians living in the early 21st century in the United States of America share the gospel (something, by the way, that Christ has commanded us to do), we share it not only (1) with sinners in need of a Savior, but also (2) in a particular cultural and political context. If the political and cultural climate does not recognize our right to follow our deeply held convictions about marriage today (convictions that align with thousands of years of practice in countries worldwide), can it really be long before sharing the gospel itself is outlawed? This is not a farfetched idea.

Relentless efforts to silence voices like Barronelle’s move us ever closer to this point. Let’s understand that leftists and secularists already have gotten what they said they wanted; marriage has been redefined in the United States. Take note: Barronelle’s polite refusal to supply and arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding didn’t keep the wedding from occurring. Let’s put it another way. If this were about only the definition of marriage, then why are leftists threatening to take away everything Barronelle Stutzman owns? The Supreme Court already has ruled that nationwide, two men can “marry” each other, and two women also can enter into a relationship the state will recognize as a “marriage.”

Yet, even though homosexual activists now have what they’ve said was their ultimate goal, they’re not stopping. Barronelle and others in similar situations must acquiesce. They must comply and align with the left on this issue. To the activists, the supreme prize wasn’t really redefining marriage. It’s what’s behind natural marriage that raises ire and incites panic on their part.

The Real Rub

Just what is behind natural marriage and the case to restore it and to preserve it? Many things, but here I’ll name three:

Rebellious sinners, including you and me in the natural inclinations of our hearts, absolutely cannot abide anything that points directly to human accountability to and guilt before a holy God. Marriage as an exclusive union between one man and one woman, however subtly, does just that! Why? Because it also points to the salvation that Jesus made possible for His bride, the church.

In a previous post we said something similar about the Ark Encounter, a theme park in Northern Kentucky that includes a life-sized Noah’s ark. Answers in Genesis (AiG) is the parent ministry of the Ark Encounter. Opposition to the building of the ark and the opening of the park was vicious and even involved a crucial legal battle.

As a religious entity, Answers in Genesis had to fight for the right to hire only those whose beliefs aligned with its theological and moral convictions. It also had to fight for the right to participate in a state sponsored incentives program designed to make it easier for venues to attract visitors to Kentucky. Why would people who didn’t believe the Genesis account be so vehemently opposed to the Ark Encounter? Why would a gay or lesbian even want to work for AiG in the first place? Here’s what we said.

Reading between the lines, one gets the distinct impression that the problem these people are having isn’t primarily what they see as taxpayer-funded discrimination, but the fact that AiG and other Christian entities, including many churches, believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality, marriage, God, creation, and sin in the first place.

It runs even deeper than that. The ark of Noah, like the cross of Christ, offers strong reminders of humanity’s guilt before a righteous God. It is just as AiG states in its Ark Project Vision Statement: The ark is “a sign to the world that God’s Word is true and its message of salvation must be heeded (Romans 3:4, 5:12). Just as the Ark in Noah’s day was a sign of salvation, as well as judgment, an Ark rebuilt today can be a sign to point to Jesus Christ, the Ark of our salvation, and to coming judgment (2 Peter 3:5-13; John 10:9).”

In the cultural and political context in which we currently live, natural, man-woman marriage is like the ark of Noah. Consider these words from a well-known Bible passage, John 3:16-21.

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

We can express this even more explicitly by repeating something we’ve already said. Marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. In other words, it’s a picture of the gospel. This is why I say in the title of this post that “Christians Must Stand with Barronelle Stutzman—for the Very Same Reason the Left Is Obsessed with Crushing Her.” This case really is about the gospel!

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).

In recent years, a resurgence of reformed theology has taken place in the American evangelical church. Participants in this movement have encouraged the church to rediscover and reemphasize Reformation theology, and, accordingly, have offered a renewed emphasis on the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a variety of ways, this has been beneficial for the church and for society at large. Yet respectfully, I am compelled to make this sobering observation. Barronelle Stutzman and others who are laying everything on the line to uphold God-ordained marriage are doing a lot more than affirming marriage. They are championing the gospel! If members of the New Reformed movement respond by looking the other way and refusing to publicly support people like Barronelle, then are they not offering empty words when they say they are affirming the gospel?

Hold it! Church leaders and Christians who don’t consider themselves a part of the New Reformed movement aren’t off the hook, either. Not by a long shot! It’s your job to uphold the gospel by defending marriage as well. Anyone professing the name of Christ is obligated by virtue of his or her allegiance to Christ to defend natural marriage. The inspired writer of Hebrews made this crystal clear when he wrote, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb. 13:4, NIV).

The Risk of Being Misunderstood

“But wait!” someone might say. “I don’t want to be misunderstood.” This is our fourth consideration. I appreciate this desire, of course. No one wants to be misunderstood. Yet if we fail to uphold marriage, there’s no doubt we’ll be misunderstood. Granted, if we do uphold it, we run the risk of being misunderstood on some levels—but at least we will be misunderstood for the right reason instead of because we were ashamed of Jesus’ words about the first institution God established at the dawn of time!

A history lesson will help us at this point. The early Christians were accused of many things, including cannibalism, atheism, and a lack of patriotism—and that’s just three of the items on a ten-item list. If any people ever were misunderstood, the early Christians were! Yet, according to Pastor Greg Laurie, “they came to be known as those who turned their world upside down.” He must have been thinking of Acts 17:6.

Clarity Desperately Needed

In April, 2015, a little more than two months before the Obergefell marriage decision was released by the United States Supreme Court, I wrote about how divinely crafted symbols were being distorted in society, and how they weren’t even being clearly presented in the church. I said this:

We can be assured that God is keenly aware of divine signs and images that are being misrepresented today. Thousands of years ago, God placed the first rainbow in the sky as a reminder of His faithfulness after the flood of Noah (see Gen. 9:8-17), but in 2015 many people see rainbow colors and celebrate evil in the name of the politically correct principles of “diversity” and “inclusiveness.” Then there’s marriage—a sacred institution ordained and instituted by God (see Gen. 2:18-25) as well as a picture of Christ’s relationship with His church (see Eph. 5:22-32). Needless to say, that picture is being muddied and distorted everywhere people look. If marriage is redefined in America, how can it possibly continue to represent in society anything close to the relationship God ordained it to represent? If we lose marriage, we lose an image that helps people understand why Christ died. While we cannot expect non-Christians to act as Christians, neither can we ignore the fact that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and for many years upheld those ideals. Yet in recent decades in this country, we have, as a nation, kicked God out of public life. Given all the opportunities we as Americans have had to hear and respond to God’s truth, we must understand that God will hold us accountable.

How You Can Help

Here are some ways you can support Barronelle Stutzman in her fight for religious liberty.

  • Pray for her and for others who are refusing to follow the state rather than their consciences and their God.
  • Give financially. Through Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), you can contribute to help finance Baronelle’s own case, which now is headed to the Supreme Court. The ACLU recently received $24 million from its supporters to litigate against people like Barronelle. ADF is attempting to counter this force with resources from freedom-loving and liberty-loving Americans who understand the importance of religious liberty. Learn more about this from David and Jason Benham in this video. Donate here. Be aware also that Samaritan’s Purse, which is headed by Franklin Graham, will accept funds given to help persecuted Christians in the United States. You can give by calling this organization at 1-800-528-1980.

Help Barronelle Stutzman by contributing financially to Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization offering her legal assistance. You can donate to help offset the legal expenses here.

  • Encourage President Trump to sign an executive order that would provide at least a measure of protection for religious freedom. This wouldn’t resolve the entire problem, but it would be a positive step.

  • Spread the word about the threat to religious liberty in this country and the importance of protecting it and preserving it. Don’t be intimidated! Speak up!

I close with an acknowledgement that I know what I’m encouraging you to do isn’t easy. It’s hard—especially in a culture that misunderstands the gospel and hates Christians. Against this backdrop, we do well to remember that in upholding marriage, we must never neglect our other responsibilities as believers, including loving, caring, helping, and serving—being Jesus’ hands and feet in the world. As we exercise love and uphold truth, we can be assured that God will use us to attract non-Christians to the Savior.

Just as He used the first Christians during the days of the early church.


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.


1According to Steven L. Cox and Kendell H. Easley, eds., Harmony of the Gospels, (Nashville: Holman, 2007). This harmony is based on the text of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, even though I have cited the New King James Version in this article. Moreover, Cox and Easley drew from the work of John A. Broadus and A. T. Robertson, who worked together to publish A Harmony of the Gospels (1893). Robertson continued this work and in 1922 published a revision titled A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christed Based on the Broadus Harmony in the Revised Version.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture has been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

One Bible quotation in this article is designated NIV. It is from the New International Version. THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Crossing a Threshold

I’ve been writing and posting my insights at www.wordfoundations.com since March of 2015. Over that period of time, I’ve been able to build a library that I pray God will use to help people—especially young people, but also pastors, educators, and other leaders—better understand truth, reality, and the culture. Although all the material I’ve written remains mine, I’ve produced my work in a volunteer capacity for an outstanding organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).



This week’s post is the one hundredth Word Foundations article. In view of the special relationship I have with ADF, I believe it is fitting for me, in this threshold piece, to highlight the excellent work of Alan Sears at Alliance Defending Freedom.

You can access article 100 here.

—B. Nathaniel Sullivan—


Copyright © 2017 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved.