Think On These Things

It’s Sunday night and I check Twitter one more time before bed. I see someone has posted something about a social issue but did so in a way that I don’t think gives proper historical context to the situation. Feeling full of wisdom (or is it pride?), I decide that I need to reply to their tweet to offer up my expert insights and ensure that the record is correct. 

The alarm on my phone buzzes at me at 6:15 on Monday morning. Bleary eyed I reach for the phone and silence the alarm. Time to check on all of my usual habit websites: Facebook, the news, hobby websites, Twitter…Oh there seems to be a lot of notifications on Twitter. Turns out that the author of that original tweet responded to my tweet. The author of that tweet also happens to be the creator of a popular animated Christian tv series for children and many of his followers felt the need to join the conversation. I should be getting ready for work, reading my Bible, praying….really anything other than responding to people on Twitter but there I was. And that set the tone for my entire day. I could have started my day differently. I could try and form better habits with my use of time. 

How often do we create these situations for ourselves? How often do we get into political disagreements online? Or even if we aren’t participating, just simply consuming all the world has to offer via the internet or our televisions. All day every day, a staggering array of voices from various sources compete for our attention and try to push us to feel one way or another about other people in society. There’s always someone trying to sell us something and most often, especially with politics or social issues, what someone is trying to sell us is fear. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear. The purveyors of fear are not of God. Politicians and their associates are some of the guiltiest parties in this regard. If candidate A gets elected, your rights on issue X will be lost! If candidate B gets elected, then our country will be lost!…fear. I’m speaking from an American point of view here and I apologize to our international readers if these experiences are not relatable in your local context. 

 I think about Philippians 4:8 a lot. 

 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

I don’t know about the rest of you but for myself, there’s not much on social media or the news, or TV that resembles anything like what Paul tells us to think about in Philippians 4:8. What are we spending our time thinking about? Is it true and noble? Is it right and pure? Lovely? Admirable? Praiseworthy? 

There was recently a #CancelNetflix campaign circulating around social media that was sparked by a movie Netflix purchased and distributed that many felt was sexualizing young girls. I haven’t seen it but the descriptions and movie poster seemed pretty despicable. However, when the #CancelNetflix tag was gaining steam, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were all just going to pretend like this is the first morally questionable content Netflix has released. Millions of Christians subscribe to Netflix and consume any number of morally bankrupt tv shows and movies on that service. Is this really the first objectionable thing you’ve seen on Netflix that makes you think that maybe financially supporting them isn’t being a good steward of the money God has given you? Is there much of anything true and pure about that service?

When I see the anger, outrage, broken relationships, and broken people lashing out on social media or posting attention seeking photos just for some validation of who they are as a person, I can’t help but think that so many of us have forgotten to think on what is lovely and admirable. To seek things that are excellent and praiseworthy. I write this article pointing a finger directly at myself and how I choose to use my time and the media I consume. We are called to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and for most of the history of the world people not only used salt as a flavoring but it was also a primary means of preserving food before the invention of refrigeration. Salt is a preserving agent that slows the decay of food. How can you be a preserving agent in the world? This phrase has been used a lot by many different people but maybe part of the answer is to consume less and create more. And if we are thinking about things that are true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable and praiseworthy, then maybe what we create will have a bit of that preserving nature of salt in it. Maybe we can create little slices of lovely content in a world intent on consuming messages of fear.

Is There Life after the Plague?

As COVID-19 continues colonizing the globe, it is not clear how long this will go on and what the ultimate impact will be in terms of lives and economic cost.  Towards the beginning of the outbreak, I had the privilege of watching a webcast with Andy Crouch who encouraged us to stop thinking of this like a snowstorm and instead to start thinking of it as a longer season like winter and perhaps a miniature ice age.  While I was just beginning to accept the reality of what 2 weeks of school closures meant for family life, I realized then and there this would be a long haul.  It looks more and more like a mini ice age with each new day.

At some point, whether through the discovery of a vaccine, the build up of immunity, or some other set of factors, the world will emerge from the pandemic.  When we do, things will be different.  Many will have lost jobs.  While some will be there, others will be permanently lost or altered.  Like a series of dominoes, this will trigger other losses like foreclosures, bankruptcies, and the like.  For as hard as the financial loss will be, though, the most difficult and permanent losses will be the amount of lives lost to COVID-19.  Some of the people who are near and dear to us will not be with us in the world after the plague.

What will life be like when COVID-19 no longer dominates the daily headlines?  We don’t yet know because we are not there.  However, our ignorance of the future should not keep us from living in the present with the unwavering assurance that God is at work.  He may, in fact, have surprising things in store for life after the plague that seem unlikely to us now.

Some of you might be wondering if this is just wishful thinking.  Perhaps it is.  However, this is not the first time that disease or plague has struck the world, nor is it the first time that God has allowed his people to suffer.  In the book of Joel, the prophet describes wave upon wave of locust swarms that gobble up every green thing in the land.  He writes:  “What the cutting locust left, the swarming locust has eaten.  What the swarming locust left, the hopping locust has eaten, and what the hopping locust left, the destroying locust has eaten” (Joel 1:4, ESV).  The incessant waves of locusts leave a wake of desolation behind them:  “The fields are destroyed, the ground mourns, because the grain is destroyed, the wine dries up, the oil languishes” (Joel 1:10, ESV).  Everything green is gone. 

We might have a hard time connecting with what this meant, but imagine that you live in a world without a freezer (yes, that thing that most Americans filled as soon as they heard the meat processing plants were closing down).  You have no ability to store fresh food long term.  Now, add to that picture the fact that your daily bread does not come sliced in a plastic bag at the store but from the fields in front of your house, which you have cultivated and planted by hand.  In the past few months, as those little green shoots have emerged from the earth and stretched their wavy fingers toward the sun, you have had a swelling satisfaction that there will be food in a few short months.  The dwindling supplies in the grain bin—the pantry of sorts—have not concerned you. 

This verdant vision is shattered one morning.  Instead of the usual morning glow, the sun seems unusually dim as you rise from your bed.  You wonder initially if some storm clouds have rolled in.  As you emerge from the door, you realize that these are not storm clouds.  No, these are grasshoppers, millions of grasshoppers.  As you look over at what was once a lush field of barley, you see bare stems like scrawny fingers pointing to the sky and clinging to them are ravenous grasshoppers munching any last bit of green they can find.  Horror sinks deep.  You run to the granaries to check.  There’s not much there now, and you’ll have to keep enough to sow for next year.  Fear strikes a little deeper.  Will there be food to eat when it all runs out? 

A locust plague would have wiped out their economy and brought many of them to the brink of starvation.  There was no government safety net, no unemployment to file, nor was there any hope that some scientist in a lab could concoct a pesticide to stem the locust hordes.  Their only recourse was God.  In the book of Joel, God calls his people to “return to me with all your heart… and rend your hearts and not your garments (Joel 2:12b-13a, ESV).  Turn to God they did. 

Because God is a gracious God, he heard their cries.  In response, he delivered an astonishing promise through Joel:  “I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyers, and the cutter…” (Joel 2:25a).  Imagine that!  God promises there will be bumper crops that will more than compensate for the losses of those lean years.  If God can restore the years of the locusts, then he can also restore the years that COVID-19 has taken.  Furthermore, if God can restore what is lost, then we can live in the present with hope that God can surprise us innumerable ways, even if the present road is hard and full of pain.

Still, even with the hope that God can restore the years the locusts have eaten, I have found myself praying a simple prayer: “Why?”  Why would God allow his people to go through such a devastating time?  Why might he allow us to go through such a time?  After all, many non-profits will face a setback.  Many people badly in need of food, water, medical supplies, and the Gospel will go without.  What good could possibly come from this?

Just a few verses after delivering the promise that he would restore the years devoured by the locusts, God reveals the ultimate result and goal of the locust plague:  “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else” (Joel 2:27a).  In other words, through the locust plague, God was revealing himself to a new generation who would come to know that he is Israel’s covenant God.  He is the one who responds to their pleas for help.  He is the one who watches over them and supplies their need.

I wonder if God is not doing something similar now.  What if those of us who have claimed this God as our own are being invited into a deeper way of knowing him?  What if we are being invited to trust him and him alone in a whole new way and the only way to get there is to watch our 401k’s shrink precipitously or to get that sinking feeling as our boss hands us a pink slip?  Even as someone who follows this God, I sometimes find myself operating from a form pragmatic deism where God seems to be up there doing his thing and I just need to make wise, moral decisions down here.  Folks, this is not the God of the Bible who is living and engaged with human life.  Perhaps our plague is also an invitation to watch God chisel through these apathetic layers of our hearts to discover that God is already at work and closer than we currently imagine.

If God is doing this, if he is inviting us into deeper ways of knowing him, how does that change your heart’s posture to the pandemic?  Where have you already seen him at work in this way?  What new ways of trusting God and knowing him have already begun to take root?  God may restore to us what we have lost financially in a few years.  For as great as that sounds, I think it would be far better if we enter that future with a fuller knowledge of who God is and a deeper trust and awareness that he is God.  God seems to have wanted that for the Israelites after the locust plague.  I imagine he wants that for us after this plague as well.

Where Should our Loyalty Be?

Today is Independence Day in the United States and there will be a lot of celebrating along with hemming and hawing about what the Founding Fathers would think of our country today.  There has been nearly endless discussion over what flags are appropriate to fly and what our Constitution says about free speech and marriage.

Perhaps though, we take far too much of our identity from the nation and/or state that we were born in.  This is not to imply that I would want to live somewhere else.  It’s just the fact that we should identify ourselves as Christians first and foremost.  If the laws and morals of our land do or don’t match up with our biblically defined values is almost secondary.  We must obey God rather than men.

The author of Hebrews shows us where our loyalty should be.  Hebrews 11:13-16:

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

No matter how much you believe in your country, the fact remains that we are citizens of something greater.  We can discuss all we want about how the country was founded on Christian values and it is getting away from them.  An earthly kingdom – even one founded on Christian values – still pales in comparison to the heavenly kingdom we await.

Each of us may have a certain responsibility to stand up for our beliefs and hold fast to what God teaches us rather than what man says we should or shouldn’t do.  In the end though, we are surrounded by people who are not Christians and they will act as non-Christians act.  While there are good Christian men and women in government, there are many non-Christians in government as well and they will pass laws that are not in line with our values.

Our nature is to despair over the laws of our country changing and moving away from how we understand the Bible.  And certainly there is some reason to despair and be concerned over the moral decay that we see around us.  On the other hand though, we must keep things in perspective.  Whatever nation or state we pledge allegiance to is not the one that God intended for us.  True Christians long for a better country – a heavenly one.

Whatever you do today, whether it is celebrate the founding of a country or despair over the loss of the values it once had, remember that this home is only temporary.  We are strangers and foreigners in this land.  Our citizenship lies elsewhere in a place that is perfect.  We are awaiting that place.  Jesus has gone ahead to prepare that place for us according to John 14:2-3:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

While we may disdain over what our earthly nation has become, let us keep in mind that this is not our true home.  Our true home is being made ready for us.  And with that in mind, the best we can say is “Come quickly Lord Jesus.”

Where is the Victory?

Another tragedy has rocked our country and has left pundits scrambling to be heard the loudest for their cause in order to take advantage of it.  While racism and guns will be blamed – and may be part of the problem – the root of this is sin.  Racism does not exist without sin.  Gun violence does not exist without sin.  If we fix the sin problem we won’t have these tragedies any more.

And that’s the biggest problem.  Even if Christianity is wildly successful at taking people who are full of hate and filling them with the love of Jesus, all it takes is one person for such events to happen again.  But more to the point, does the church appear to be the least bit successful in reaching our culture and turning people from hate to love?  Certainly there are grand stories to be shared but overall it seems as though we are losing the battle.  And this is not just an issue in the United States.  In many places that were once predominantly Christian, it appears as though the battle has already been lost.  Grand cathedrals are no longer places of worship but are tourist attractions and markers of history of a bygone era.

From the perspective of most people, society seems to be getting worse, not better.  If that is the case, the broader question is why.  Why has the church lost ground in society?  Why has sin become so predominant everywhere we look?  And more importantly, why wasn’t sin defeated at the cross?

There are no easy answers to these questions and how a person responds to them will vary widely on the theology they’ve been taught to believe.  It wasn’t that long ago – a hundred years or so – that the predominant theology said the world would keep improving until the gospel reached everywhere and it would usher in Jesus’ Kingdom.

Now, many people believe just the opposite.  The world is getting worse and worse and it will only be fixed when Jesus returns with a sword to strike down His enemies.  Regardless of the interpretation or how literally one takes it, the book of Revelation certainly depicts a lot of calamity before peace is achieved.

This still begs the question of why though.  Why has the devil not been defeated?  It’s certainly a very hard argument to make that he is not present and active in the world today.  Where is the victory over sin and death that we were promised?  Are all of the promises of the cross only valid at the end of this age?

I don’t have all of the answers but I do have a few thoughts.  For starters, Satan has definitely been defeated already.  In our limited ability, we often depict a battle between God and Satan; I still use such metaphors myself.  That gives far too much credit to Satan and not nearly enough credit to God.  This was never a battle because that would imply that Satan ever had a chance at winning.  Satan has led a rebellion and that rebellion has been thwarted because it never stood a chance to begin with against an all-powerful God.

What we experience today is the effects of the rebellion.  The world is currently Satan’s domain.  He is the prince of this world.  To depict things in a modern context, Satan is holed up in a little house with the full force of the military outside of his door.  He currently has full reign over the things in that house but there is no way that he is getting away.  His rule is not absolute nor is it eternal.  While he holds sway over humanity now and he holds us hostage, it is only temporary and he has not usurped God’s power.

Satan has been defeated at the cross but we still see the effects of sin and death because we are incapable of viewing time from God’s perspective.  Two thousand years and counting since the time of Jesus is a very long time to us but it is the blink of an eye to God.  The rebellion has been crushed but Satan is still going to take as many people with him as he can.

We live in “the end of this age.”  Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, every generation has had people who were convinced that He would return in their lifetime.  No matter the signs that people see, we don’t know when His return will be.  The end of the age can end tomorrow or it can stretch on for another two thousand years.  That seems unlikely to us but it certainly seemed unlikely to many in the early church who also expected Jesus’ immediate return.

The victory that we experience now is not the victory that we long for.  We long for a time when there will be no more sin or death.  We long for a time when all things will be perfect.  That is not this time.  There will be a day when that is realized however.  It has already been accomplished but it has not been put into effect yet.

We do see parts of the victory in the world around us though.  Amidst the kind of horror that we can only hope and pray we never experience, we can see Christians who respond with love and forgiveness.  This does not mean that there is not also sorrow and anger but I believe that it is only through the power of God that any kind of peace can be given in this kind of situation.

Compare the response of Christians to tragedy to that of non-Christians.  While I can’t say that it is universal, in general there is certainly a greater amount of love and forgiveness that surrounds a tragedy.  That is the victory of the cross that we experience today.  It is the ability to handle the worst of what life has to offer and still awake the next day and say “God is good.”  It doesn’t mean that a Christian is happy about the circumstances but they can still have a peace that passes understanding knowing that God still has the victory despite the evidence that sin is alive and well today.

In the end, we still long for the day when all sin is eradicated and Satan has no power over us.  While we wait, we will endure the effects of a broken world that is in rebellion against God.  But we do so knowing that it is temporary.  We will see the full effects of victory and we can experience the partial effects of it now.

The end has come for Harold Camping but it’s not the end of the world

You might not know or remember the name Harold Camping but you probably are familiar with his work.  He was the man who had convinced many of his followers that the end of the world was coming in May 2011.  When this didn’t come about as predicted, rather than learn his lesson he stated that he misinterpreted what the rapture was but still called for the end of the world in October of 2011.  This was undoubtedly little comfort for his followers who had sold their homes and toured around in RV’s touting the end of the world.  It probably also didn’t make the people happy who had given his ministry $80 million over a five year span.

Harold Camping died at the age of 92 on December 15, 2013.  I don’t wish to speak ill of the dead but I must question whether Camping’s contributions to Christianity were undone by the embarrassment that he caused.  I never followed Camping’s teachings and even if I did, only God can judge the heart of a man.  I truly hope that he was a genuine Christian who was just misguided in a particular belief and not a man who led many astray under the guise of Christianity.

I get very frustrated when Christian leaders cause an embarrassment to Christianity.  I’m not talking about getting caught in affairs and scandals, those are bad obviously but that is different than what I’m talking about.  I get mad when Christian leaders claim to speak for God when it doesn’t appear as if God has spoken.  We have lots of revelation from the Lord, it’s called the Bible.  What the Bible declares to be sin, we should boldly proclaim to be sin.  But too many leaders take things a step further and declare things that the Bible does not say.

God does punish sin but He doesn’t always bring disaster upon cities or nations because of their sins.  Unless God has spoken directly to an individual to proclaim this as truth, they should parse their words.  Boldly speak the truth about sin but don’t make sweeping proclamations about what God is doing in response to that sin.  God will judge sin, it just might not be here on earth.

Likewise, we know that one day “the end” is coming.  I can definitively say that we are one day closer today than we were the day before.  Beyond that, we simply don’t know.  Jesus gave us signs of the end and we do see them in the world today.  However, every generation has looked around them and has seen those signs.  And perhaps this is the point – Jesus could return at any moment because the signs have always been there and always will be.

Of further embarrassment on the end of the world front though, Jesus said that no one knew the day or hour of His return – not even Him!  There is no secret Bible code that Jesus couldn’t figure out but math whizzes today can crack.  In short, I can’t think of any way to say it other than the fact that people who want to declare they know more than Jesus that they reek of arrogance and ignorance.

Unfortunately Christians sometimes adopt an “end justifies the means” mentality that does more harm than good.  In an effort to prevent sin, broad proclamations about judgment are made which may make Biblical sense but are not Biblically supported because frankly the Bible just doesn’t tell us that a hurricane today is indisputably the judgment of God for a particular sin.  It could be, but not every disaster is the judgment of God.  Jesus made that clear when He discussed the tower of Siloam killing 18 people in Luke 13:4.

Perhaps Camping’s great fault was that he was overzealous to warn people about the judgment that awaits unrepentant sinners.  I can’t claim to know what his true motivations were.  If this were it, he could be excused for wanting to get the gospel out.  But I will never excuse the methods that involve misinterpreted scripture, no matter what the intended result was.

In the end Harold Camping went to meet his maker about 2 1/2 years later than he expected.  I can only hope that the word he receives from the Lord is a “well done” to a well intentioned but misguided man and not a “depart from me, I never knew you.”

Why the church needs to change its approach on gay marriage

To be quite clear up front, I do not believe in homosexuality, regardless whether its participants are getting married or not.  There are plenty of places in the Bible that condemn these actions.  In Romans 1 alone, it is called unnatural, shameful, and we are told that it is the result of depraved minds.  I am not concerned about being in line with public opinion, only in being in line with what God has clearly taught us.

With that in mind, I believe that the church has completely blown its approach on the issue of homosexuality.  We have the Bible on our side and we should NEVER abandon God’s Word for public opinion or even fear of persecution.  But the question is, why are we holding fast to God’s Word?

The prophets were instructed to draw a line in the sand of what God said.  People were either for God or against Him.  I believe that there are still prophets in the church today.  Not men and women who predict the future but who draw the line in the sand and state that God’s commands are not to be trifled with.  But not everyone has the gift of prophecy and I question the idea of whether the church is to do the work of the prophets.

The church has an obligation to declare the Word of the Lord but that is far more than just standing against the tides of popular culture.  Jesus didn’t give us instructions of “Go into all the world and tell them everything that they are doing wrong so they’ll stop.”  Our standing orders are to make disciples.  Making disciples does mean that we instruct people to repent of their sins but that comes through a process.

I believe that we have inadvertently created a mindset to the outside world that they first have to get their lives right because they can come to God.  Because the church talks so much about sin, we forget who we’re preaching to.  People outside of the doors of the church need to hear the gospel about the forgiveness of sins.  Those inside of the church need to know about the garbage in their lives that needs to be dumped.

But we’ve gotten it backwards.  How many times in the gospels do we see Jesus preaching against sin?  Jesus encountered plenty of sinners and He was never wishy washy in calling sin for what it was.  But Jesus always had the big picture in mind.  Rather than just fix the sin, He aimed to fix the whole person.  When Jesus called for repentance, it wasn’t for one particular sin but rather a general call for salvation.

The church only needs to look at its previous efforts to see how well it does to preach against sin rather than focus on saving souls.  Issues such as prohibition and divorce certainly haven’t gone the way of the church’s teachings.  It appears as though the issue of gay marriage is also headed that way as well.  I believe that the church needs to be more concerned about preaching salvation and changing lives in that way rather than continually preach to non-Christians about what the Bible says.  Non-Christians have no reason to respect what the Bible says but we continue to preach sin rather than salvation.

Should Protestants care who is pope?

For the last two weeks, one of the major news stories all over the world has been the resignation of the pope.  This is arguably the most important story in the world as 1.2 billion people identify themselves as Catholic and thus should have a vested interest in what is going on in the church.  And of course they should have an interest in who the next pope will be.  History tells us that speculation is almost completely fruitless as likely “frontrunners” for pope are far more difficult to predict than frontrunners of an election.  And in case you don’t recall how well people have done in predicting that, 2012 had no less than five different leaders for the Republican nomination to run for president.

So, this is in no way an attempt to speculate on who will be pope.  The broader question to ask is, should I, as a Protestant, even care who is the next pope?  The easy answer would be no, because I am not Catholic and therefore the selection of pope will have no bearing on me one way or another.  The truth though, is that I am always concerned about who the pope is and you don’t need to be religious at all to have a vested interest in the pope.

The pope has the ability to sway the thoughts and opinions of more people in the world than anyone else.  Of course of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, not all can be considered “good” Catholics as not everyone will listen to the pope.  For instance, the church has taken a stand against abortion and there are still plenty of pro-abortion Catholics.  Secondly, the pope heads an institution in the church that is quite unchanging.  It is unlikely that any pope in the foreseeable future will change any longstanding beliefs and traditions that impact millions of people.  Nevertheless, the potential is there.  Should the church change its stance on a major issue such as homosexuality, the ramifications would be far reaching and ultimately affect far more than just Catholics.

As a Protestant, I have even more interest in who the pope is and what he will do.  For better or worse, the Catholic church symbolizes the universal church for many people.  When the church does something or says something, it often speaks for all of Christianity.  Certainly not every priest is a pedophile (likely a very, very small minority), nor is every Protestant minister without grievous sin, but in the eyes of many outsiders Christianity is full of perverted leaders.  The Catholic church is what shapes the perception of Christianity for many people because they do not know the differences between Catholic and Baptist and Presbyterian.

While I do not hold to many Catholic beliefs, the Catholic church is often in line with conservative Protestant churches on social issues.  In many ways, the battles over social issues have already been fought and popular opinion has swept away any sense of morality or upholding what the Bible teaches.  Nevertheless, should the Catholic church shift from a conservative position on any social issue, conservative Christians will not only be a minority but will find themselves badly outnumbered and possibly even open to persecution.

There are some who look upon the Catholic church as evil and will even try to call the pope the antichrist (or the false prophet of Revelation.)  I believe such speculation is foolish and serves no purpose.  I do believe that anyone who teaches anything other than “salvation by faith alone” is in error.  To that extent I believe that the Catholic church is in error as it upholds works and dogma alongside the importance of faith and scripture.

Nevertheless, no matter what one thinks of the Catholic church and the pope specifically, I believe that it is our duty to pray for the selection of the next pope.  This will be a man who wields more influence over the world than any president or world leader could have.  He has the power to hold the church in a conservative position or to allow it to be washed away with the tides of popular opinion.  Protestants don’t agree with Catholics on issues of faith and many will question whether the pope can be saved while holding to Catholic dogma, we must still recognize the influence that the position holds.

God can use a person to accomplish His will whether they are saved or not.  Without any insult intended to Catholics or the position of pope – if God can speak through Balaam’s donkey, through false prophets, and through Caiaphas the high priest of Jesus’ day, God can certainly accomplish His will through the pope as well.  And that will have ramifications on Catholics and Protestants alike.  So be in prayer that God would place the right man in leadership regardless whether you follow the pope or not.

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. 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.

Climate Change Emails

Climate change is in the news again and not just because of an upcoming conference in Copenhagen or continued discussion by Congress to pass “cap and trade” laws.  Files from the University of East Anglia were hacked and uploaded onto the internet.  These files include numerous emails and internal documents on the discussion over climate change.

It’s no surprise that scientists disagree on the issue and it is no real revelation that there is even childish namecalling among dissenting views.  What is cause for concern is the accusation that scientists manipulated data to support their view rather than deriving their view from an objective evaluation of the information.

Among the more interesting bits leaked was a statement implying that scientists can’t account for a lack of global warming going on currently. “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”  Another alarm comes from the fact that examination of tree growth rings stopped when they did not support their thermometer readings.  The New York Times writes here:

“Through the last century, tree rings and thermometers show a consistent rise in temperature until 1960, when some tree rings, for unknown reasons, no longer show that rise, while the thermometers continue to do so until the present.”

There may be a good reason for abandoning the tree rings but no explanation is offered as to why the tree rings show different data and why that data is not attempted to be reconciled rather than disregarding it.

Scientists point out that the timing of this information leak is suspicious at best given the climate change conference coming up.  But that seems beside the point.  The information was obtained illegally and obviously was meant to damage backers of the climate change position.  The point is that these conversations happened and the public has been told that climate change is universally accepted and all scientific data backs this up.  Instead there are dissenting opinions and apparently data that contradicts what the climate change supporters want us to believe.

Before this seems like an isolated event with a few bad apples, in my search for actual information about these climate change emails, (I first read about this on CNN yesterday, almost two weeks after the emails were first reported about elsewhere on the web – and CNN offered no information about the actual contents of the emails) I uncovered that this is not the first set of damaging leaks.  This site discusses leaked emails from the EPA and a demand for more information to be released to the public. 

In the EPA emails, a scientists was told not to speak about climate change outside of the National Center for Environmental Economics.  Another email forbid him from researching the topic any further.  A third email gives the impression that the organization’s position was set and releasing data to the contrary would only cause trouble.

We should be good stewards of God’s creation.  We certainly have an impact on our environment and there are things that we can do to cut down on pollution that should be done.  Clouds of smog over Mexico City and Los Angeles are not naturally occurring and it doesn’t take scientific data to prove this.  Perhaps we need to be a bit less trusting when science tells us that something is a proven fact and that everyone agrees with it.  It sounds very similar to the story of evolution that we’ve been told as well.

Credit Card Interest

With Black Friday just a few days away, this seemed particularly current.  Many people with credit cards probably have received a letter in recent weeks or months about their interest rates going up.  I have received two such letters, both from Citibank, concerning my credit cards from Zales and a furniture store.

For those who don’t know what is going on, Congress passed a law in the spring that places much greater restrictions on what credit card companies can do to consumers and how they can raise interest rates.  This law goes into effect in February and credit card companies and raising rates ahead of the law.  The House of Representatives caught on to this and passed a bill to move up the effective date to December 1st.  Unfortunately the Senate has been unable to pass a similar bill and consumers will continue to find their rates increased from now until February.

The banking industry is responding by saying that the increase in interest rates is due to an increased risk in lending.  This sounds like a good excuse until it’s compared to reality.  Both accounts that I had were never late and both have been active this year.  I have excellent credit.  And still my rate for both accounts was raised to 27.99%.  This is beyond ridiculous and is even more insulting when I think that Citibank was one of the biggest banks bailed out by your taxes and mine.

On top of cancelling my credit card with Zales, I sent them a letter telling them that I would no longer be purchasing from their store because of how I was treated by their financier, Citibank.  Big banks aren’t going to care if they lose a few customers like you or I over increased interest rates.  But if the companies that they provide credit for realize they are losing business because of absurd interest rates and do their banking elsewhere, maybe these banks will finally get the idea.

If you find your interest rate increased on your credit card between now and February, I encourage you to not only cancel the credit card, but contact the company who issued it and let them know that you intend to take your business elsewhere because of they way you were treated by their financier.