What's Next?

Recently, a close friend of mine lost his grandfather. When I was visiting with the family at the nursing home, I noticed the peace that they all had with his passing. He was nearly 100 years old, and a faithful Christian man who had served God and his family for decades.


Sure, they’re going to miss him - he was a great man with a kind heart and a quick sense of humor. But they know that he’s gone on to his reward. He has run his race, he has fought the good fight, he has kept the faith. The next thing he’s going to hear is “Well done.”


Of course they’re comforted.

LINK: Certitude: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Brian Zahnd:

At first glance it might appear that the move from fundamentalism to atheism is a tremendous leap of faith, but this may not necessarily be so. Fundamentalism and atheism are two sides of the same thin empiricist coin.

I referred to this blog tonight while having a great conversation with a friend. Faith isn't knowing; faith is trusting; it's being persuaded. I don't believe that anyone has ever been converted by a factual argument; people follow Jesus as a result of an experience with Jesus. The evidence, as it were, is what Jesus said to Nicodemus: "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Seeking Peace

   “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:18‬ ESV

 I found this photo on Instagram and immediately reposted it. The comments and likes I received were from an amazingly diverse group. Granted, they are (almost) all my friends, but none of them fit into a common demographic. And I love it.  

I don't want tall fences. I want a big table. Everyone is welcome at my table. Everyone is encouraged to have different opinions and points of view. People should disagree with each other at my table, as long as they can coexist peaceably and treat each other with love, respect, and dignity.  

LINK: Why Wages Won't Rise

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor:

"The growing use of outsourcing abroad and of labor-replacing technologies, the large reserve of hidden unemployed, the mounting economic insecurities, and the demise of labor unions have been actively pursued by corporations and encouraged by Wall Street. Payrolls are the single biggest cost of business. Lower payrolls mean higher profits.

This is not a winning corporate strategy over the long term because higher returns ultimately depend on more sales, which requires a large and growing middle class with enough purchasing power to buy what can be produced.

But from the limited viewpoint of the CEO of a single large firm, or of an investment banker or fund manager on Wall Street, it’s worked out just fine – so far."

LINK: Fiscally Conservative but Socially Liberal

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues.

I've often said this exact thing - that I'm fiscally conservative and socially liberal - or self-identified as a Libertarian. To me, there's a lot to the Libertarian platform that makes sense and seems like it would be in the best interest of the most people. That being said, I'm beginning to see that something that best serves the most people is likely damaging to those who need the most help and are the least able to help themselves. 

Balancing these issues is complicated, and it's a conversation that dives deep, into the role of government, the role of the church, and society's obligation to all of its members. 

LINK: Republicans Plot New Tactics to Take on Donald Trump

From Time Magazine:

Trump has risen from petty distraction to campaign sensation, rising near the top of national and early-state polling on the backs of his universal name recognition, a platform appealing to the GOP fringes, and a steady stream of inflammatory comments.
This has led campaigns and Republican leaders to rethink their response to Trump. Initial efforts to ignore him have failed, daily denunciations of him have only increased his visibility, putting him into first place in the GOP field according to one online-only poll sponsored by YouGov and The Economist. A candidate that many Republicans long courted for his megaphone and populist following now threatens to tar the larger party with comments about rapists and criminals flooding over the southern border.

At least they realize that this guy is a problem. Unfortunately, his bombast and discriminatory comments align with the views of a significant number of Republican and Tea Party voters. 

The good news is that by seeing the extremes of the party personified in someone like Donald Trump, smart Republican candidates will begin to move away from the fringes and embrace a more rational, empathetic approach on issues like immigration. 

LINK: Republican Chairman Calls Trump About Campaign

"The chairman of the Republican Party called Donald Trump on Wednesday as Democrats stepped up efforts to tie the billionaire businessman — and his outspoken comments on immigration — to all the GOP presidential candidates.

GOP chairman Reince Priebus and Trump “had a respectful conversation spanning a range of topics,” said Allison Moore, press secretary for the Republican National Committee.

The call came amid rising Republican anxiety about Trump, who has lost numerous business deals after his comments that many migrants from Mexico are criminals and rapists. Yet Trump’s presidential campaign has gained support in a number of early Republican polls."

What does it say about Republican primary voters that this guy can make comments like this and still be gaining support? 

LINK: Ed Cyzewski on the Supreme Court Ruling

"If God is going to condemn us over anything in America, it’s going to be our indifference and inaction when it comes to feeding people, giving out clean water, offering shelter, visiting the sick, and helping the prisoners, not a Supreme Court ruling.
We have been given a gift: The Supreme Court ruling means we can stop throwing our time and money into fighting same sex marriage and fulfill the words of Matthew 25."

I completely agree, and this says what I've been thinking so well. The U.S. is not a theocracy, and Christians can't force their particular morality on the entire nation. Rather, the role of the church is to serve our communities and our world and to share the gospel. 

Tom Clancy on Terrorism

From the novel "Patriot Games"

The terrorists’ only weakness was their negativity. They were a political movement with nothing to offer other than their conviction that their parent society was unjust. So long as the people in that society felt otherwise, it was the terrorists who were alienated from it, not the population as a whole. The democratic processes that benefited the terrorists were also their worst political enemy. Their prime objective, then, had to be the elimination of the democratic process, converting justice to injustice in order to arouse members of the society to sympathize with the terrorists.

And then I thought about the USA PATRIOT Act

Defaulting on Debts

I recently read a blog post about what Jesus had to physically endure on the cross. While it wasn’t the most eloquent writing, it did provide details about the act of crucifixion and explained what the person being crucified experienced during the process. It ended with a comment along the lines of “Jesus endured all that so that you can go to heaven. Why can’t you bring yourself to serve Him?"

I hate arguments like this. I hate it when people talk about what Jesus did for us and then turn it around to guilt someone into becoming a Christian. I don’t like quid pro quo Christianity. I don’t like it because it’s not biblical. But more than that, I don’t like it because it’s not realistic.

“For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

I think that most everyone would agree with me that we can’t repay God for our salvation. But I’ve heard preachers compare receiving the Holy Spirit to a paycheck for doing the work of “preparing yourself” to be saved. And I’m sure many folks have been told to “get themselves right” with God. But I don’t make myself right. I can’t make myself right. If I could “get myself right” with God, then I wouldn’t have needed Jesus on the cross.

We owe a huge debt to God. We do. All of us do. But if you fool yourself into thinking that you can somehow repay Him for what He paid at Calvary, you’re going down a path of misery, legalism, and spiritual torture. You most certainly didn’t deserve what Jesus did for you, but you can’t pay Him back, either. You owed a debt you could never pay, and Jesus paid it for you. Now, you’re free.

UPDATED - What's happening with Heidi

I posted today that Heidi and I were in the hospital due to some pregnancy-like symptoms. She is 32 weeks along with our second child. As most of you probably know, our son, Lincoln, was born at 34 weeks and spent nearly four weeks in NICU before he came home to us. Lincoln, of course, is perfect and brilliant and funny and precocious, so there is no problem with his having been premature. That said, we were hoping for a smoother final trimester this time around. 

At any rate, here's the current status on Heidi and baby Gavin: 

- For the past several weeks, Gavin has been very active, rolling and kicking inside her belly. Or so we thought. Now, it seems she's been experiencing at least some irregular mild to moderate contractions.  

- As of this afternoon, Heidi is about 25% effaced. For those of you who understand these things, instead of 2.5 cm, she's about 1.7 cm. This sort of thing is a sort of pre-labor symptom, but is not the same as being in labor. 

- A fetal fibronectin test was performed and came back negative, which means it's highly unlikely that she will go into labor within the next 7-10 days. 

- Heidi was on IV fluids, but they've stopped that for now. She's been given some meds to help calm the contractions and steroids to accelerate Gavin's heart and lung development. There has been talk of giving her magnesium sulfate, but that hasn't happened yet.  

- Heidi and I will be meeting with some doctors tomorrow from the NICU at the hospital, and I will have more details about what's coming then.  

- Heidi will likely be in the hospital until Tuesday, and we will reconsider everything then.  

A great big thanks to our amazing family for helping out with Lincoln, my pastor for coming by and praying with us, and my awesome neighbors for taking care of our furry kids at home. I'll keep everyone updated through the blog as news comes. Of course, by and large, this is a situation where no news is probably good news. We appreciate all of your prayers and kind words. Heidi is asleep, and she kicked me out of the hospital room because she didn't want to hear me snore. 

We love you all.  

UPDATE:  January 17, 2015 - 16:46

We just spoke with the doctor, and, by and large, things are staying the same. On Tuesday, they will measure the length of her cervix again with her main obstetrician and the high-risk pregnancy team to see how things are going. Most likely, she's going to be on bed rest until 36 weeks, at which point she will be considered full term, and will have no restrictions. 

Heidi is on a course of meds, as I mentioned before, to calm the contractions. Today, instead of frequent, irregular contractions she has been experiencing for the past several weeks, she's only had four or five. This is a great improvement. The course of medication will continue for every six hours for 48 hours, so this round will end on Sunday. If contractions continue, they will discuss other options. 

Heidi has received one steroid injection; she will receive the second injection later today. Fortunately, she does a better job of dealing with injections than I do, and she hasn't run, passed out, or hit the nurse yet. 

Again, thank you to everyone for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers. You mean so much to us both, and we appreciate the encouragement. 

UPDATE:  January 20, 2015 - 17:27

Heidi had another ultrasound today and everything is stable. We're being discharged! She'll complete her bed rest at home instead of the hospital and have weekly exams with the obstetrician. 

Again, everyone, we appreciate your thoughts and prayers and kind words. You've helped make this stressful situation much more bearable. A special thanks to everyone who came to visit, to our parents for helping us out with Lincoln this weekend, and to Brad and Ashley for looking after me and taking care of Dizzy while I was otherwise occupied. 

Link (and Some Rambling): John Pavlovitz on Sin

John Pavlovitz writes about the Christian community's obsession with sin, particularly with defining sin and building boundaries. As Pavlovitz says, in his experience, people use the definition of sin (what behaviors or conditions qualify as "sin") as a way to define their tribe. People use sin as a "litmus test" to determine who's in and who's out. My favorite quote from this entry -

I’ve read the four gospels about a half a million times, and I have yet to see that from Jesus.

I'm not out to build an entire theology around Pavlovitz's writings here (though I do enjoy his writing and appreciate what he has to say), but this post today got me thinking. 

Tolerable Sin and Intolerable Sin
I think that perhaps part of the problem with sin is that, as Christians, we define sin two ways - as tolerable or intolerable. Tolerable sin is "our" sin - the issues we struggle with. Of course, this differs for everyone: for some, it may be gossiping or lust or private porn use or lying or cutting corners on our taxes or even being short tempered with our spouse or our kids or our coworkers. None of these are good things to do, but they're not really that bad, and everyone has their own struggle, so we justify these little sins by saying that there are worse things we could do.

Intolerable sin, of course, is the sin of the "others" - drug abuse, perpetual drunkenness, child abuse, illicit sex, murder, armed robbery, or being a Democrat. These sins are, in our minds, just horrible, and people who engage in them simply can't be Christians because they are so heinous. No Christian would ever do such a thing. 

"I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin."
I'm quoting, of course, from 1 John 2. It goes on to say "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 

I think that we assume that, by becoming a Christian, we cease to engage in the intolerable sins, and only dabble in the tolerable sins. When someone is converted, we expect them to give up the intolerable sins and join us in the liberty of tolerable sin, because, after all, they're not so bad. 

John makes it clear - as does Jesus in the Gospels - that our goal isn't a certain tolerable level of minor sins. All sins are damnable, and God hates all sin. Sin is what separates us from God. Unrepentant sin - no matter how small or tolerable that sin is - disrupts our relationship with our Father and may even keep us from heaven.

We are to be without sin. How many of us can say that? How many of us, like the self-righteous, murderous throng of people surrounding the adulterous woman, consider the sins of the others far worse than our sins? It was only in response to Jesus pointing out their hypocrisy - let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone - that the crowd disperses. There are so many serious points that can be made from this story, but I only want to focus on one - casting judgment is serious business, and we must make sure that we're sinless before we do. 

"But wait!" you say. "I'm not an adulterer, so I can judge adultery." (Or maybe you don't, but hear me out) Perhaps not. But Paul says that anyone who is guilty in any point of the law is guilty of the whole law. A gossip is no better than an adulterer, a murderer no worse than a petty criminal, in the eyes of God. 

Where Sin Did Abound
So what, then? If we're all guilty of sin, what then? Do we just give up? Of course not. As John says, "If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." As Paul says, "Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." (Romans 5:20). In chapter 6, Paul continues, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!" (Romans 6:1-2)

This is a complicated idea - we know what sin is, and we're told not to sin. Yet every day, in so many ways, we do sin. Yet John, and Paul, and so many other authors, tell us that, in that event, grace covers that sin, and it is plentiful. But, we shouldn't be casual in sinning simply because we have grace. This tension is covered so well by Bonhoeffer in "The Cost of Discipleship" (if you haven't read it, you should). But my point is this - we ALL sin. All of us, from the pope down to the worst hypocrite. And we all need grace to cover our sins. 

I've rambled far too long, and I'm sure many of you have dropped off by now. I can't blame you. But if you've gotten this far, thank you. And here is my conclusion - when we try to box people in by getting them to define what sins are tolerable and what sins are intolerable, we are totally blowing it as Christians. Jesus preferred the company of thieving tax collectors and professional whores to the religious elite. He didn't say they were better, and He didn't say they were worse. 

In another blog, Pavlovitz talks about how his church has more gay youth than any other church he knows of. Affirming or no (I don't know, and that's not the point here), his church has created an environment in which those who are among the least likely to attend church have a place where they feel safe and can hear about Jesus. That's an amazing thing.

I know that there are some who will read this and say, "Look at Brad - he left the UPC and now he'll just accept any sort of sin because he doesn't know the truth anymore" or "he's just saying this to justify his own pet sins." Be careful. I've never said that, and I certainly don't believe that. But the Bible is clear: if you confess your sins and repent - no matter what the sins are! - Jesus is faithful and just to forgive you. I'm not perfect. You're not perfect. None of us are sinless. But when we confess and repent, our relationship with Jesus is restored. 

The first responsibility of the church is to share the gospel - the sower going out to sow. The gospel is simple: "We're all sinners, and as such, we deserve to die. Jesus came, was greater than sin, and then took our punishment on Himself and died in our place. Through Him, we can have eternal life. There's nothing we do to earn it or deserve it - it is a gift bestowed on us by Jesus. He died in our place, and we are made righteous because of it." The only proper response to this is humility, not judgment, bickering, infighting, or division.