hope beyond lip service

Like many people in America today, I have been extremely frustrated with how divided we have become. We have a serious problem today over people’s unwillingness to listen to others despite our political and theological beliefs.  Too be honest, it can be very discouraging to see and hear the hate and fear that’s spreading through our nation and its communities. 

Some would say that I need to get over it because that’s the way its always been and probably will be.  Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way.  What if hope and healing began to go much deeper than political messages aimed at winning votes?  What if churches stopped drawing their moral and political lines in the sand each Sunday and began to actually practice and live the kind of hope Christ calls us to?  What if we understood that hope doesn’t stand a chance in this country without genuine healing?

I came across these wonderful and encouraging words from Diana Butler-Bass yesterday and had to share.  I encourage you to read her post and take some time to think about your life.  Are we displaying genuine hope?  Have we fallen victim to all the fear-mongering? 

I was too young to remember President John F. Kennedy.  My mother worked on his campaign and hauled her baby (me) along with her to pass out literature.  She assures me that one of my first words was “k-e-n-d-y.”  I was barely four when he was shot.  Years later, I asked my mother what was so special about President Kennedy.  Without hesitating, she replied, “He gave us hope.  Hope that things could change.  We needed that.”  She paused and a look of sadness swept across her face. “And it was taken away.  Too soon.  They killed hope.”

Hope may be shot, taken in an instant of murderous violence.  But, this summer, we have witnessed another way of killing hope–vicious rumor, cynical politics, manipulation, lies, gossip, and fear mongering.  Hope doesn’t die in an instant.  Instead, it is has been walking a way of sorrows and put on a cross, whipped, laughed at, life slowly beaten away, breath halting, and joints stretched in pain.  It is a gruesome image, but it needs to be.  Without hope, a people and their civilization cannot survive.  The Bible teaches that.  History teaches that.  To purposefully kill hope is a sin, especially when its only replacement is fear.  No society can flourish with fear as its base.

Over the summer, mainline Protestant clergy have reported to me an increase in fear in their congregations–overt xenophobia and nativism, racist epithets, terrified elderly people thinking their government was about to murder them, threats not to preach on anything related to health and healing (what then, I ask, can clergy possibly preach about if not health?), congregants stocking up on weapons, and people coming armed to church.  One such clergyperson (an army vet), joked that he was looking for a clergy supply store that sells Kevlar vestments to wear while celebrating the Lord’s Supper.  

Churches are in the hope business.  Yet, even they are struggling to hold on to hope.  “I feel so alone,” one of my minister-friends confided.  “Just a few months ago, it seemed like we could change the world.  Now, everyone is running for cover.  People are scared.”  Over and over again, I’ve heard the same refrain:  What can we do to stop the fear?

Well, one way to overcome fear is to preach healing.  Because Christians are also in the healing business.  Actually, the three great monotheistic faiths all teach that God’s desire to heal a broken universe is the central point of faith, that shalom–peace, healing, surrender, and salvation–are the very reason for human existence.  In great religious traditions and in lively spirituality, hope and healing are interconnected.  You can’t have one without the other.

For some reason, the White House seems to think that HOPE is a noun.  Once you put it on a poster, or have millions of people vote for it, then it simply is.  But hope is not a noun.  Hope is a verb.  It is active, ever-living, restless.  It needs to be nurtured, taught, envisioned, shared.  Hope for healing; hope for community; hope for global brother- and sisterhood; hope for transformation; hope for a world where neighbors do unto others; hope for a future of grace, mercy, and love. 

Hope is that business of faith communities.  But it is also the business of political leaders.  And that’s what President Obama needs to get back to tonight.  Sure, he needs to talk about health care and public options, costs, job creation, and policy points.  More than anything, we need the President to lead back to hope.  You can’t have health without hope.  The fear mongers have had their season.  But the hope-killing time is over.  We who know the active power of hope need to stand up.  It is a time for growing hope again.

Love and Peace.

How we view the Bible matters

How do you view the Bible?

A manuscript of nothing more than old-school laws and senseless stories?

Something that was forced upon you as a child?

God’s perfect Word?

A sword?

A book written by people in their day, and in their own way while  under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Everyone has some sort of a view when they see, touch or read a Bible.  But not all views are healthy or even correct.

This past Sunday at Redwood Hills we began a new teaching series as we try an engage with the Scriptures as God’s unfolding story for his creation.  Why a series of this?  Because many of us who read the Bible often find ourselves asking the question…”what am I supposed to do with this?”  While we can’t possibly answer that in a four week series, I think we can build a good foundation.

One of the most common questions people ask me as a pastor is, which translation is best to read?  It’s a good question as there are plenty of them to choose from today.  In fact, Scot McNight is blogging right now on how Christians are becoming way too tribal in their view of the Bible.  You can read part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE.  He’s an authority on the Bible and shares some wisdom that we should pay attention to.

It’s funny that last week two people asked me about translations and I referred them both to try out the TNIV.  The next day Zondervan (the TNIV publisher) announced they will no longer print it and that they were too gender-inclusive with their translation of the original languages.  Personally, I think we can find fault in every translation and their announcement came as bad news to me.

Sometimes you have to just let the Bible be the Bible.

If you happen to be in a place where the Bible is something you desire to read more of, or would like to understand it better as God’s story and not just a book of laws, blessings, and promises…then I recommend taking a peek into some of these resources which might help you along your journey.  Or if you want, take a listen to our podcasts as we talk about how we view the Bible, the importance of listening to the Bible, and living the story of the Bible in the 21st century.

Blue Parakeet: Re-Thinking How We Read the Bible, by Scot McNight

How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, by Gordon Fee

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, by Christopher Wright

Out of the Question.. Into the Mystery: Getting Lost in the God-Life Relationship, by Len Sweet

 

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. Psalm 119:105 (The Message)

Love and Peace.

Divided we stand…

It’s been a while (a whole 6 months or so) since we’ve seen the US so politically divided.  This time it’s not an election, but health care reform.  The ridiculous media coverage of town hall meetings did nothing but reveal what many already believe.  We are a country with the privilege of having free speech but we suck at listening, and so we remain divided on so many levels.

A couple days ago I read Richard Dalhstrom’s blog post on health care and found it to be so full of wisdom, insight, and thought provoking.  It’s long, but if you want to hear a pastoral voice in the matter, than you should most definitely read it. 

The health care debate is in full bloom and so it’s time to write about it and, I hope, get some discussion going. From what I’ve seen though, on the news this week, I’m skeptical that any real healthy discussion is going to take place for two reasons.

The first reason is because this issue is revealing just how addicted we are, as a nation, to our political categories, and the vilifying of whoever our opposition might be. We vilify through sound bites, as Sarah Palin has done by talking about an imaginary death panel who hold the rights to live or die in their power. We vilify through implying that Obama’s health care logo has it’s origins in Hitler’s Socialist Party Logo. These stupid accusations and associations don’t help the conversation at all. Such comments make it difficult for many to even listen to the very good and important things that the pro-free market people have to say.

Secondly, and related, it’s increasingly clear that the average American wants sound bytes, rather than doing the hard work of digesting the complexities of this issue. For those inclined though, to do that hard work, I’d recommend this very lengthy article, written by a life long Democrat whose first hand negative experiences with the health care industry have led to his thorough study of the problems, and his worthy, decidedly pro free-market proposals. If you’ve no time to read the whole article, please read the bullet points and quotes, at the very least, before commenting.

This conversation is important, not because we want to become like Europe or be different than Europe (or Canada), but because health care is consuming more of our resources every year, resources not used for other things. The path is unsustainable, even for the insured, let alone those who are losing their homes or dying because they have no insurance. What are some of the major issues? Pour a cup of coffee… this is long post. But please read… it’s important!

1. Health Care isn’t Health or Happiness

Medical care, of course, is merely one component of our overall health. Nutrition, exercise, education, emotional security, our natural environment, and public safety may now be more important than care in producing further advances in longevity and quality of life. (In 2005, almost half of all deaths in the U.S. resulted from heart disease, diabetes, lung cancer, homicide, suicide, and accidents—all of which are arguably influenced as much by lifestyle choices and living environment as by health care.) And of course even health itself is only one aspect of personal fulfillment, alongside family and friends, travel, recreation, the pursuit of knowledge and experience, and more.

Yet spending on health care, by families and by the government, is crowding out spending on almost everything else. As a nation, we now spend almost 18 percent of our GDP on health care. In 1966, Medicare and Medicaid made up 1 percent of total government spending; now that figure is 20 percent, and quickly rising. Already, the federal government spends eight times as much on health care as it does on education, 12 times what it spends on food aid to children and families, 30 times what it spends on law enforcement, 78 times what it spends on land management and conservation, 87 times the spending on water supply, and 830 times the spending on energy conservation. Education, public safety, environment, infrastructure—all other public priorities are being slowly devoured by the health-care beast.

2. Health Insurance isn’t Health Care

After explaining why health insurance is so obviously important as a means of protecting one from going bankrupt because of catostrophic illness, Goldhill writes, “…health insurance is different from every other type of insurance. Health insurance is the primary payment mechanism not just for expenses that are unexpected and large, but for nearly all health-care expenses. We’ve become so used to health insurance that we don’t realize how absurd that is. We can’t imagine paying for gas with our auto-insurance policy, or for our electric bills with our homeowners insurance, but we all assume that our regular checkups and dental cleanings will be covered at least partially by insurance. Most pregnancies are planned, and deliveries are predictable many months in advance, yet they’re financed the same way we finance fixing a car after a wreck—through an insurance claim. Comprehensive health insurance is such an ingrained element of our thinking, we forget that its rise to dominance is relatively recent. Modern group health insurance was introduced in 1929, and employer-based insurance began to blossom during World War II, when wage freezes prompted employers to expand other benefits as a way of attracting workers. Still, as late as 1954, only a minority of Americans had health insurance.

3. the Moral Hazard Economy

Every time you walk into a doctor’s office, it’s implicit that someone else will be paying most or all of your bill; for most of us, that means we give less attention to prices for medical services than we do to prices for anything else. Most physicians, meanwhile, benefit financially from ordering diagnostic tests, doing procedures, and scheduling follow-up appointments. Combine these two features of the system with a third—the informational advantage that extensive training has given physicians over their patients, and the authority that advantage confers—and you have a system where physicians can, to some extent, generate demand at will.

Do they? Well, Medicare spends almost twice as much per patient in Dallas, where there are more doctors and care facilities per resident, as it does in Salem, Oregon, where supply is tighter. Why? Because doctors (particularly specialists) in surplus areas order more tests and treatments per capita, and keep their practices busy. Many studies have shown that the patients in areas like Dallas do not benefit in any measurable way from all this extra care. All of the physicians I know are genuinely dedicated to their patients. But at the margin, all of us are at least subconsciously influenced by our own economic interests. The data are clear: in our current system, physician supply often begets patient demand.

4. There’s no one else to pay the bill

“…Let’s say you’re a 22-year-old single employee at my company today, starting out at a $30,000 annual salary. Let’s assume you’ll get married in six years, support two children for 20 years, retire at 65, and die at 80. Now let’s make a crazy assumption: insurance premiums, Medicare taxes and premiums, and out-of-pocket costs will grow no faster than your earnings—say, 3 percent a year. By the end of your working days, your annual salary will be up to $107,000. And over your lifetime, you and your employer together will have paid $1.77 million for your family’s health care. $1.77 million! And that’s only after assuming the taming of costs! In recent years, health-care costs have actually grown 2 to 3 percent faster than the economy. If that continues, your 22-year-old self is looking at an additional $2 million or so in expenses over your lifetime—roughly $4 million in total.

Would you have guessed these numbers were so large? If not, you have good cause: only a quarter would be paid by you directly (and much of that after retirement). The rest would be spent by others on your behalf, deducted from your earnings before you received your paycheck. And that’s a big reason why our health-care system is so expensive.”

5. The Government is NOT good at cost reduction

“…Cost control is a feature of decentralized, competitive markets, not of centralized bureaucracy—a matter of incentives, not mandates. What’s more, cost control is dynamic. Even the simplest business faces constant variation in its costs for labor, facilities, and capital; to compete, management must react quickly, efficiently, and, most often, prospectively. By contrast, government bureaucracies set regulations and reimbursement rates through carefully evaluated and broadly applied rules. These bureaucracies first must notice market changes and resource misallocations, and then (sometimes subject to political considerations) issue additional regulations or change reimbursement rates to address each problem retrospectively.”

6. Uncompetitive

This lengthy section of the article explains that our heatlh care industry is, properly, one of the more heavily regulated industry. I say properly because it’s of some value to know, for example. that your doctor has proper training, and that the equipment being used in your hospital is sterile. However, the reality is that the regulatory system is prone to enact laws authored initiated by lobbyists with the intent to kill the competition. Goldhill shares several examples of this, including a congress enacted moratorium on starting small clinics that specialize in one form of surgery. Killing the competition, as we all know, has the effect of elevating costs.

Here’s an example of how our health care providers refusal to talk about prices stifles competition: “…Eight years ago, my wife needed an MRI, but we did not have health insurance. I called up several area hospitals, clinics, and doctors’ offices—all within about a one-mile radius—to find the best price. I was surprised to discover that prices quoted, for an identical service, varied widely, and that the lowest price was $1,200. But what was truly astonishing was that several providers refused to quote any price. Only if I came in and actually ordered the MRI could we discuss price.

Several years later, when we were preparing for the birth of our second child, I requested the total cost of the delivery and related procedures from our hospital. The answer: the hospital discussed price only with uninsured patients. What about my co-pay? They would discuss my potential co-pay only if I were applying for financial assistance.

Keeping prices opaque is one way medical institutions seek to avoid competition and thereby keep prices up. And they get away with it in part because so few consumers pay directly for their own care—insurers, Medicare, and Medicaid are basically the whole game. But without transparency on prices—and the related data on measurable outcomes—efforts to give the consumer more control over health care have failed, and always will”

7. On the technology front…

We live in a culture where the production of new technologies eventuates in increased productivity and eventually, a decline in prices. Thus do DVD players today cost one tenth of what they cost when they first came out. But in the health care world, the lack of competition makes this nearly impossible. For example…

“…health-care technologies don’t exist in the same world as other technologies. Recall the MRI my wife needed a few years ago: $1,200 for 20 minutes’ use of a then 20-year-old technology, requiring a little electricity and a little labor from a single technician and a radiologist. Why was the price so high? Most MRIs in this country are reimbursed by insurance or Medicare, and operate in the limited-competition, nontransparent world of insurance pricing. I don’t even know the price of many of the diagnostic services I’ve needed over the years—usually I’ve just gone to whatever provider my physician recommended, without asking (my personal contribution to the moral-hazard economy).

By contrast, consider LASIK surgery. I still lack the (small amount of) courage required to get LASIK. But I’ve been considering it since it was introduced commercially in the 1990s. The surgery is seldom covered by insurance, and exists in the competitive economy typical of most other industries. So people who get LASIK surgery—or for that matter most cosmetic surgeries, dental procedures, or other mostly uninsured treatments—act like consumers. If you do an Internet search today, you can find LASIK procedures quoted as low as $499 per eye—a decline of roughly 80 percent since the procedure was introduced. You’ll also find sites where doctors advertise their own higher-priced surgeries (which more typically cost about $2,000 per eye) and warn against the dangers of discount LASIK. Many ads specify the quality of equipment being used and the performance record of the doctor, in addition to price. In other words, there’s been an active, competitive market for LASIK surgery of the same sort we’re used to seeing for most goods and services. The history of LASIK fits well with the pattern of all capital-intensive services outside the health-insurance economy.”

8. A Way Forward

It’s difficult to offer a representative quote for this part of the article, but you can read this part here. The summary though, would be to suggest that if we were to make health care MORE of a free market reality rather than less, we’d all be better off. However, the author goes on to also declare that there’s a great need for us to address the fundamental moral issue of accessibility for low income people. If both of these truths are taken into consideration, at least two truths become clear:

First: the current proposal will fall terribly short of achieving real cost saving reform

Second: any proposal that will ultimately work must stand outside both the socialist and capitalist paradigms that are presently driving this conversation. Of course, this latter truth is in keeping with all that God proposed when He spoke to Israel about economics in the Old Testament. That system defied categorization in that it was terribly pro-private property, pro-wealth creation, and pro-communitarian sharing of responsibility for the poor, whom Jesus said we would, “always have with us”.

Until we can free ourselves from party loyalties and sound bites, we’re going to be a stuck on a treadmill.

 

If you got this far, congratulations!  Now, any thoughts on what you just read? 

Love and Peace.

empty chairs at church

Years ago when I was a youth pastor, there was a particular summer night where the usual youth group crowd was really low.  I wasn’t surprised as it’s just something that tends to come with church attendance during those two brief months in the Seattle area when the sun comes out and people make the most of the warm, long evenings.

I remember the night well as I stood on the stage and my first words of the service were, “hey, where is everyone tonight?“.  Just then a 12 year old girl said, “What about us? Were here!”  Immediatley I realized how rediculous and hurtful my words were to those students who had taken the time and effort to join us for our gathering. 

A 12 year old girl helped change me begin to re-think church growth, my insecurities, and empty chairs.

It was Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher from the late 1800’s who once said, “when we focus our attention on the empty chairs, we do a disservice to those who fill the chairs”.  This is a brilliant statement which many people and pastors in today’s church need to think about and wrestle with!

Spurgeon’s words should force pastors to confront their motives, insecurities, and approach to growing healthy communities of faith.  I’ll be honest…empty chairs sometimes make me feel like I’m failing in leading the church.  I’ve learned to catch myself when those thoughts or feelings arise, as they force me to alter how I lead and what I believe about growth.  Even worse…it often means that I fail in being the shepherd God’s called me to be to those God has brought to us.

My particular pastoral training tells me to do whatever I have to do to fill the seats, yet the message of Scripture tells me to make disciples. Thus, the tension of filling chairs on Sundays and growing a church through the long and sometimes messy journey of disciple-making.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against mega-churches or growth plans that many pastors adhear to…it’s more or less me sharing the truth of Spurgeon’s words, and how they’ve impacted me over time.

Living in a culture where high-achievement, dynamic leadership, and numerical results are often the gauge for success, it can be hard to lead the church in a way that I believe I’m supposed to.  I find myself always asking God for the strength to lead with conviction, be odedient to His mission, follow Jesus through a life of faithful serving, and pastor my church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure if much of this makes sense, but I think people would be surprised by how many pastors are both discouraged and distracted by the “empty-chairs”. 

Pray for your pastors today.

Love and Peace.

much needed renewal from a family trip

So it’s been a while since my last post.  The summer brings with it a schedule that I sometimes have difficulty keeping up with and things like the blog get put on hold.  That, and I’ve honestly not had much to say lately.  It’s been a few weeks of hard work, planning for the fall season of ministry, struggling to find financial solutions within the church budget, and there always seems to be the theological wrestling that can at times consume my mind.

Yesterday, I returned home from a five day family trip to the Oregon coast. We rented a small beach house in Seaside and did nothing but play on the beach, walk the promenade, ride bikes, and just play as a family.  We even spent some memorable time with good friends who were staying in a beach house just 10 miles away.  Best family trip yet!

Windows Photo Gallery Wallpaper

After being home for a day I’ve had time to think about how this trip brought some much needed renewal.  By renewal, I more or less mean, re-learning.  I thought I would share some of my renewal and ask you to pray for me as I really dod desire that these thoughts evolve into action and habit. 

1. Playing hard as a family accumilates memories that are far more valuable than my hard-work earnings.

2. There’s a balance in “reflection” and “action”.  I need slow down more for reflection.

3. I’m too damn scared to fail and so my dreams will remain small.  Not enough faith in the Holy Spirit.

4. I disrespect my family by not turning off the phone and computer more often.  Need to set more boundaries.

It’s only four thoughts, but this presents me plenty of work, practice, and prayer.  I’m so thankful for the opportunity to travel with my wife and kids and will cherish the memories we made.  If you haven’t vacationed in a while, maybe its time to re-think your schedule and priorities a bit.  It’s well worth the financial investment!

Do any of my shared thoughts resonate with you?  Feel free to share…

Love and Peace.

Am I really this old?

Do you ever have those moments where you truly realize that you’re getting older?  Those times where you’re left to just say, “damn…time is flying by!“.  Tonight as I watched the MLB Home Run Derby and saw that Prince Fielder won this year’s competition, I had such a moment.

In my boys’ room there sits a baseball on their book shelf.  It’s not just an ordinary ball from a sporting goods store.  No, this is a home run ball I caught with my bare hands while sitting in left field at the old Kingdome in Seattle.  The home run was hit by none other, than Cecil Fielder.  Recognize the last name?  Yeah…that’s because he’s the old man of Prince Fielder.  The same Prince who dazzled millions tonight on ESPN with his baseball hitting prowess!

Prince Fielder

I sat on the edge of the couch…looked at my wife…and said, “I have his dad’s ball upstairs, which means I’m getting old”. 

Love and Peace.

Fog of War

Seems like everyday someone famous is dying.  It’s really too bad that a great man like Robert McNamara who died this week at age 93 isn’t being talked about because of America’s need to worship the King of Pop.  McNamara, who defined the role of Secretary of Defense in the US and played a huge role in involvement in the Vietnam War. 

Like so many people do when they reach their later years, McNamara deeply struggled with how he lived his life. His particular struggle was over his beliefs and participation in war.  It was about year ago that my close friend, Ian shared with me a documentary called, “Fog of War”.  Both of us had spent a lot of time discussing the tension of what exactly is patriotism and where does it fit in the life of a Christ-follower.  It’s not that we didn’t want to love our country…but how do we love our country and reject some of the many things that seem to define patriotism?

I went home that afternoon and rented “Fog of War”.  It’s a chilling, honest, and heart-wrenching documentary on the life and career of Robert McNamara.  My eyes were opened to how our military system works, the kind of power the Sec. of  Defense has, and just how easy it is to make a mess of this world.

But why the film remains one of the most important I’ve ever seen, is because of how McNamara looks into the lens of the camera and pours out every emotion and struggle that he was left to live with.  Questions…regrets…shame…

Have you seen it?  What were some of your thoughts from it?  Did it change any of your beliefs about war?

Love and Peace.