Spiritual but not religious

CNN has an interesting article http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/personal/06/03/spiritual.but.not.religious/index.html?hpt=C2  I’ve been mentioning this in my sermons for probably at least five years.  More and more people are defining themselves as spiritual but not religious.  They believe in god but it is a god of their own making and he is born out of a frustration with organized religion.

Organized religion has its faults whether Catholic or Protestant or any of non Christian faith.  There are plenty of hypocrits and corruption at every level of religion.  The truth is that Christians are sinful like everyone else and while Christianity offers a better way to live life and true Christians have the Holy Spirit to guide them, Christians are still far from perfect.

The biggest problem with the spiritual but not religious idea is that it is a new age idolatry.  The god you believe in is one of your own making.  Don’t like the idea of sinners going to hell?  Then you simply choose not to believe in it.  You accept the things about god that you like and dismiss what you don’t.  It has a new name but it has really been going on since the beginning of time.

If you take this idea a bit further than these spiritualists are willing to take it, then you’ll see the absurdity of the notion.  “I believe that when I die, god will turn me into my favorite animal and heaven will be spent frolicing in the woods/field/stream.”  Of course this sounds absurd because there is no basis for believing this.  But that is the problem with the spiritual but not religious concept.  There is no basis for the belief.  You can’t pick and choose ideas from Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism and decide that this is what you believe.  The religions are incompatible.  I really don’t know how to put it in any other way than that. 

The other problem with spiritual but not religious is that every person believe that they are going to their version of heaven.  It seems pretty obvious that a person is not going to choose to believe that they are hellbound if they decide what the standards for heaven are.  If there are no absolute rules, then a person will always set the bar below where they currently are.  They will point to people who are far worse than them – thieves, murderers, child molesters – and claim that those are the people who are hellbound.  But people like themselves who are relatively good and who try to live a good life will certainly go to heaven.  Without absolute standards for right and wrong, how does anyone know what is wrong?  It comes down to conscience which is a poor indicator because it can be ignored and twisted.

Organized religion is far from perfect because it doesn’t always operate the way that God intended for it.  But it is better than the alternative.  Spirituality that is chosen based on what feels right will only lead to trouble.  Without standards of right and wrong, we’ll choose the lowest common denominator and stop aspiring to be better people.

Four Gospels Together

I amd very please to announce that I am officially launching a long time project, Four Gospels Together.  www.fourgospelstogether.com  This is actually only partial launch as I only have about half of the commentaries finished.  Nevertheless, I have the largest section, the life of Christ, complete and I wanted to get the site going live and start to attract traffic.

If you’ve followed the blog, I’ve been talking about this project for a number of months.  It has been very time consuming and I’ve faced my share of distractions in completing it.  I now have commentary on over 100 gospel stories, covering the entire life of Christ.  I still have miracles, parables, and teachings of Jesus to complete.  I plan on saving the teachings for last because they will be the most in depth theologically.  In retrospect the life of Christ is probably the hardest section to do however, not only because it is the largest but because of the details that need to be looked at.

My goal in this site is to compare and contrast the stories in the gospel.  Because each gospel gives a slightly different account of what happened, I often find myself looking for a story, only to discover that it doesn’t contain the particular detail that I was looking for so I am forced to look for the story again in another gospel.  The site provides all of the gospel accounts of one story on one page so that anyone can read all versions at one time. 

In the commentary section I point out key differences between the accounts and try to put things in chronological order when there are a lot of things happening in one story.

I found myself using the research that I already did for this site as I completed my sermon series on the gospel of John.  I believe that this site will be equally valuable for anyone who is studying or teaching anything from the gospels.  I encourage everyone to check out the site and recommend it to friends if you like it.  I’ll continue to provide updates as I get more of the site up.


As a pastor I strongly advocate resting on the sabbath.  It’s more than just the idea that people need to stop doing what they are doing and get to church although there is definitely importance in being at church.  I don’t think that the sabbath should be something should be followed legalistically but I believe it should be followed religiously.  The Pharisees followed the sabbath legalistically, and made up extra rules about it, even concerning how far they could walk before it was considered work.  They then made up rules to get around the original rules, like a person could walk further than the allowed distance if they stopped and ate a mean before going further.

To follow the sabbath religiously is to recognize the value and importance of it and not just follow it because it’s a rule.  There is value in resting on the sabbath, not just showing up in church.  Some people have to work on Sundays.  We need hospital workers and policemen just as much on Sunday as any other day.  Then there are a ton of other places that don’t need to be open.  The world will keep on spinning if shoes aren’t purchased on Sunday and anyone who really needs a new pair has to go on Saturday or Monday.

But many people are in jobs that they can’t get off on Sundays.  This is unfortunate but also reality.  I would never tell someone to quit their job because Sunday work was required but I would strongly recommend that when looking for a job to find one that doesn’t require work on Sundays.  But what about the people who do have to work on Sundays?

For everyone who can’t take Sunday off, I recommend doing what I do.  As a pastor, my Sundays are far from relaxing.  They are usually my most stress filled day of the week.  While some people think that I only work one day a week, this isn’t nearly true.  Even when I’m not officially working, I’m on call 24/7.  My church is very respectful of my time but many pastors aren’t as lucky and have people call them or show up on their doorstep in the middle of the night.  Getting back to my point however, because my Sundays are not off, I must take another day off.

I honestly believe that the body will break down without rest.  I believe that the sabbath was meant to be more than just a time for worship (we’re meant to worship everyday).  I believe that the sabbath was to allow the body to recover from the wear and tear of the rest of the week.  So I try to take one day a week and do nothing.  No studying, no manual labor, nothing physically or mentally tiring.  I watch tv, read, or play a game. 

Lately I’ve tried to make Mondays my day off but it doesn’t always work.  This week I had a viewing to attend and a funeral to prepare for the following day.  Yesterday I was wore out from the funeral and planned on taking some extra time off when my wife woke me in the morning with bad sinus trouble so I had to take her to the doctor.  We got back home in time for lunch, my morning completely shot.  I was so tired I laid down for a nap.  Now we’re approaching the end of the week and I have a sermon to write, a lot of stuff going on tomorrow, and someone from church coming to see me Saturday, so it appears as though I won’t get a full day off this week. 

Even though I haven’t had an uninterrupted 24 hours this week, I have still made it a point to rest when I can.  I did as little as I could on Monday and took a few hours off yesterday.  It is important for all of us to rest.  God made it that way and so we have every reason to follow the command.

Dealing with Death

I have a funeral to perform today.  As a pastor I have done enough funerals that I’m used to them and have a fairly standard approach to them.  Nevertheless, it is still a very exhausting day.  Usually I don’t get anything else done after the service.  Today the service is in the afternoon so I don’t know if that works to my advantage that I at least get the morning to work or if that extra work will end up hurting me by the end of the day.

A wise pastor gave me some good advice on funerals – present the gospel.  It doesn’t matter if the person went to church all of their life or if they never set foot inside, there is comfort in the life and resurrection of Jesus.  Of course I also don’t preach fluff.  I won’t pretend that someone who had no relationship with God is looking down from heaven waiting for everyone else to join them.  In such situations I don’t say anything about their destiny other than the choice I know they would make at that moment if they had it to do over again.

I’ve dealt with the death of a 22 year old killed in a car wreck, a 50 year old who drank himself to death, and a 80 something year old who died of old age.  The first was a Christian, the second definitely wasn’t, and the third only God knows for sure.  I’ve approached them all the same however.  God is in control and we never know when our end may come.  So we must be prepared at any moment.  There is no eleventh hour when we have no clue when midnight is.  Today is the day to repent because we have no clue what tomorrow holds.

When you deal with death so often in ministry there is a chance to grow callous to it.  In some ways you have to however because if you become emotionally distraught over every illness and death you won’t be able to function and do all of the other necessary work.  But some sicknesses and death definitely hit you harder than others.  There are people who you become close to and things are more personal than just church related.  Still, funerals are meant for the living, not for the dead.  They are meant to give but also should aim to make sense out of life in a time when life might not make much sense.  In times that life doesn’t make much sense, Christ makes a lot of sense and I aim to focus on Him.

Fixing Insurance

As I mentioned recently, I haven’t been feeling well.  This led to an ultrasound a month ago, just a precaution to make sure I wasn’t having trouble with my gallbladder despite the fact that I had no symptoms aside from a dull general pain.  Not a big deal because I have insurance.  I know that it won’t cover all of it but it will handle the bulk of the cost and it’s better to be safe than sorry.

I got my bills – yes plural – from the hospital.  The insurance didn’t pay a dime!  I got a discount because I have insurance but the company that my church pays thousand of dollars a year to insure me did not have to pay a cent.  My $400 ultrasound cost me $183 out of pocket.  To have someone read the ultrasound results was an additional $90, of which I had to pay $43. 

Although I find the fact that my insurance doesn’t pay anything toward my medical bills offensive, this isn’t actually the point.  The point is that despite a year of fighting in Washington, this problem hasn’t been fixed.  It’s great that approximately 30 million uninsured people are going to be able to get insurance now.  I have serious questions about the logistics of how it’s going to work and the cost, but I’m okay with the principle of it at least.  The problem is that there are about 250 million of us who have insurance and almost every person will say that they pay too much and there is too much waste involved in the system.

On top of this, having insurance is not a cureall.  I have insurance and have avoided going to the doctor simply because I know that there is a copay of $30.  Now certainly if I thought I really needed to go, I’d go but for some people $30 is more than they can afford.  And that’s just the start.  Any time tests are needed the costs will quickly add up.  Certainly having insurance is going to help some people but there are still going to be plenty of people who can’t afford copays, coinsurance, and deductibles.  Some people who really are having a problem with their gallbladder are still going to stay home until it gets worse because they can’t afford the cost even with insurance.

Unfortunately there aren’t any easy fixes.  To truly fix the system we’d basically have to blow it up and start over again and that’s not going to happen.  But just for the sake of argument, here’s my thought on how to at least bring the system under control. 

The idea of the government running the insurance industry will never fly.  Free market, socialism, blah blah blah.  But what about the medical industry?  Although I’m sure there’s a thousand holes in my idea, it’s basically pretty simple.  Currently, you go to the doctor and they run some tests.  You get billed by the doctor, the person who runs the test, and the doctor who interprets the results.  Each person gets paid a certain amount for their role and the amount varies depending on who is paying the bill.  Medicare will pay a certain amount which the doctor accepts as payment in full, Anthem pays a certain amount, Aetna pays a certain amount, and so on.  Quantity is emphasized over quality because the more people pushed through, the more money a doctor takes home to pay his malpractice insurance and pay off his hefty student loans.

What if doctors weren’t paid by the patient however?  Instead, a pediatrician was guaranteed $125,000 a year assuming he or she worked a full year, surgeons were gauranteed a certain amount depending on their specialties, and so on.  They work for the government and they don’t bill anyone because they’re paid directly.  Millions (maybe hundreds of millions?) would be saved each year just on billing and eliminating the bill for service.  Perhaps more importantly, doctors don’t rush to push as many patients through in a day don’t miss some important details from patients that will prevent misdiagnoses as well as catching some problems before they grow larger and cost more to treat.  A couple more minutes with each patient can save millions if not billions in later treatment.

To encourage more people to get into the medical profession, pay for their schooling like is done for some school teachers.  Some teachers’ loans are forgiven if they agree to serve in certain school districts for a set number of years.  The same could be done to encourage doctors to enter certain fields that are in high demand and/or don’t pay as much as other fields.

Of course the other thing that must be done to bring costs in line is to fix malpractice insurance.  The bottom line is that doctors make a lot of money and pay an absurd amount of it back to insurance out of fear of being sued.  Many doctors pay $100k a year just in malpractice insurance.  These rates are so high because lawsuits have become absurd along with the payouts associated with these lawsuits.  Doctors are not perfect and mistakes will be made.  It’s tragic when these things happen but telltale signs of diseases will be missed and tests won’t be run that could have caught a problem.  The truth of the matter is that without a doctor’s help people will get sick and suffer from the diseases a lot more than with help.  People need to acknowledge this and if they seek out help from a doctor, they should give up their right to sue except in the case of gross negligence.  In short, a doctor misses a sign of illness and the illness gets worse, the person is entitled to seek another opinion but not sue after the fact.  A doctor fails to remove a pair of scissors and sews a patient up with the scissors still inside, this would be considered negligent.  Needless to say, the former is sued over routinely and has driven the cost of malpractice insurance sky high.  The latter doesn’t happen too often.

Now, this doesn’t begin to fix all of the problems in a system so vast and complicated none of us truly understand it, including those who work in the industry.  There is still a question of how equipment is paid for and if there is even a role for insurance.  I say scrap the whole system.  Take what employers pay to private insurance companies and send it directly to the government.  This is upwards of $1 trillion a year (2004’s numbers, likely well over that now.)  Combine that with the $800 billion a year that the goverment is already paying (once again, 2004’s numbers) and there’s a lot of money for equipment.  http://www.libraryindex.com/pages/3150/Cost-Health-Care-GOVERNMENT-HEALTH-CARE-PROGRAMS.html In case you’re curious. 

So all of this is a start.  Just some things to think about the next time you get a doctor bill or hand out your money to pay for health insurance.

New Format

Regular visitors to the site will notice a new format for the website.  After a day of toying around, I’ve decided to move the blog onto WordPress.  This will allow me to do updates a good bit faster and also gives visitors the opportunity to respond to articles with comments.  The site can be searched and it is easily navigated to view previous posts.

The other advantages to the new format are mainly behind the scenes.  Hopefully this will allow the site to be picked up by by search engines and other blog sites that will register whenever there is a new post.

Feel free to drop a comment about the new format and let me know what you think.

Nice Weather

I’ve been working, I promise.  April has brought about a ton of nice weather and I’ve been left with the choice between working inside or outside and I’ve chosen the latter of the two. 

We had unbelievably warm weather at the beginning of the month with temperatures hitting 90 two days in a row and shattering the record for the date by about ten degrees.  Since then, the weather has consistently been in the 60’s and 70’s and it has been hard to pass up.  I’ve spent the mornings during my necessary church work and the afternoons working outside.

Oh, and I got a new puppy who requires a lot of attention so that has taken up some of my time as well.

Fortunately, despite the nice weather, the website work hasn’t been completely abandoned.  April’s devotions are all up and hopefully next week I’ll be able to get a start on May. 

My major web project that I hoped to have completed in April isn’t quite halfway done.  Some of it has been other projects and some due to unforeseen circumstances.  I had a great opportunity in March to make headway and spent most of that time unable to work much at the computer so that was a big set back. 

I am hoping to do a partial launch of my big website project in May.  I have around 30 articles to finish which is still a fairly daunting task because I usually can’t do more than 5 a day (when I have nothing else to do that day), but I believe that it is achievable alongside doing May’s devotions.  I’ll give all of the details of my new project here as soon as it’s ready for its partial launch so keep an eye out here.

Dealing with Adversity

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything and as I look at my last entry it was at about the same time that things stopped going as smoothly as I would like for them to go. For starters, I developed a head cold. Just a minor nuisance, not enough to keep me down but enough to make me want to sleep an extra hour a night. That lasted about two weeks. As I got over my head cold, I developed a cough. Once again, this was a minor nuisance but around the same time I developed stomach pains. My personal diagnosis was and still is a muscle pull from the coughing. I went to the doctor yesterday after two weeks of having trouble. I was hoping for a muscle relaxer or even a diagnosis of something to do with my coughing and something to help me stop. Instead I’m going to be checked for gallstones beside the fact that I really don’t think that that is the problem. At the same time I was finishing up an online class. This wouldn’t have been a big deal except that the school was having a lot of technical difficulties. I’m the type of person who understands mistakes happen and that people are prone to error. However I also expect that if I’m paying good money for something, I ought to get what I paid for. When I pay $750 for an online class and there are 19 other students who paid that same money, I expect problems to be solved swiftly with no concern for the cost because this is what we have paid for. Instead of solutions, I only received excuses and apologies. Last week I had a meeting out of state and returned home Saturday night. On the way home I hit a chunk of rubber from a blown tire. It was small and innocuous. But it was enough to cause me to blow my tire on the highway. With my spare, I had to get off the highway and travel backroads the final 80 miles home because I couldn’t go over 50 mph. Within a mile of getting off the highway I got pulled over. The speed limit had dropped from 45 to 25 but I didn’t see any sign. Despite having never been pulled over in my life, I got a ticket instead of a warning – final cost $144. I don’t write any of this to complain or to receive sympathy. Instead it is a reminder that we all go through down seasons in life. Despite my frustrations in the past few weeks, things could be a lot worse. I was able to finish my class despite the fact that things weren’t working properly. Although I haven’t felt great for five weeks now, at no point have I felt terrible. And even though my flat tire ended up costing me a speeding ticket, I was able to safely get my car pulled off of the road. The shoulder was wide enough that I could actually pull over and replace the tire. Before I even had time to pray about it, someone else pulled off and helped me change my tire. And even my tire ended up being under warranty so it only cost me $15 for the wear that I already had on the tire. It’s easy to say that things could have been worse but that’s not even the case. God has been watching out for me even in the midst of my frustrating time. Being a Christian doesn’t always mean smooth sailing. What it does mean is that God will be with us during those rough times and that He won’t abandon us.

More Snow

I live in one of the unfortunate areas that has been pounded by snow in recent weeks.  Strangely I moved two hours south and never experienced a winter up north quite like this one.  Every time the crews get cleaned up from one storm, another one comes.  Schools have been shut for two straight weeks.  The last I heard, they might go today, ironically President’s Day when they were scheduled to have off.

To add more insult to injury, they’re calling for 1-3 more inches of snow today.  It’s not much when compared to the 30 some inches that we’ve already received this month but it’s an annoyance as much as anything now.

As a pastor this is more than a mere annoyance.  I had to close church two weeks in a row.  This is in addition to closing the Sunday before Christmas this year.  We finally had church yesterday.  Attendance wasn’t bad but some of the elderly I don’t expect to see until spring at this point.  I don’t blame them because if there’s anything to slip on, it would be disastrous for them.  Of course offering was up yesterday, but not enough to make up for not having church two weeks in a row.  Almost all of a church’s costs are fixed.  Just because church isn’t open doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any bills for that week.

Of course even in the midst of all of this, God obviously has a purpose.  It is frustrating but every so often we need to be slowed down and to focus on what really matters.  We need to be taught patience and learn that God is in control no matter what.  Even Paul had to learn this lesson.  His heart was in the right place as he wanted to continue on his missionary journeys.  But while Paul was locked in prison, he wrote a large part of the New Testament.  Some of Paul’s most lasting contributions to the Christian church came during a time when he was inconvenienced and had to be slowed down.

So, I don’t really like the snow right now and if you’re a part of the 60% plus country that currently has snow cover, you might not be happy either.  But God is still in control of the entire situation and there is good to come out of it.

New Website

As I had planned, my new website production has slowed down since the spring and summer of 2009. I really hadn’t planned on launching a new website any time soon and was going to focus more on my devotions. But the best laid plans get distracted when I’m behind them. First of all, I’m finally caught up on my devotions and have everything posted for January. This is the first time since Thanksgiving that I’ve been caught up I think. I’m actually launching a couple of new web projects but there’s no telling when I will make them live. My best guess is that it will take a couple of weeks at least. There is one new address to offer, but it’s not a new site. I registered the name www.theonlinebibledictionary.com for the Bible dictionary. The dictionary has been around for some time and even my new, updated site has been up since the fall. However this domain will take anyone directly to the dictionary instead of having to navigate around the spreadinglight site. In all, not a big deal but I thought it was worth the investment. My current website project is something that has come out of a sermon series. I’ve been preaching from the gospel of John and have been using the details in the other gospels to fill in the holes of some of the stories. I suddenly had an idea – wouldn’t it be nice to have every story put together in order to read all of the gospel accounts of the story in one place? So that is my project. There are 233 separate stories recorded in the four gospels. I am not only posting all of the relevant verses to each story but will be adding some commentary about why the story is significant and how the gospel accounts differ. In other words, 233 webpages written by me. It will definitely take a while to get the site finished but I’ll be sure to add the link here when I’m done. I already have plans for another future project. I purchased the domain name for it already so there’s a good chance that I’ll get it done as well. It will be my attempt to consolidate the business/affiliate side of Spreading Light Ministries. Ultimately there are some Christian business sites that I’d like to launch but I don’t want to clutter up the ministry site with links so this will be a new launching platform. Once again, this will be a long term project but I will likely put up a smaller scale site to get things started.