Archive for January, 2010

Blog Integrity

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Psalm 15 gives us God’s guidelines for living lives of integrity, in all areas of our lives:

1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart
3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellow man,
4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.

Note that verse two says, “…who speaks the truth from his heart.”  This command from God applies to blogs like this one.  Not only should we hold to integrity when writing new blog posts or comments, but I believe this is actually telling us that it is necessary for us to write such comments when we have truth in our heart about an issue.  This passage doesn’t say that we should just have the truth in our hearts, but that we should speak it (or blog it).

When you have truth in your heart about a blog posting, don’t hesitate to post your comments, even though others may disagree with you.

The High Cost of Health Care – Supply-And-Demand

Monday, January 25th, 2010

The current debate on health care has revealed the fact that it comprises 16% of our economy.  Regardless of where one stands on this debate, this statistic alone should concern us.  Our annual GDP is about $14.2 trillion, and we spend about $2.3 trillion every year on health care.  Of this, 31% goes to hospital care, 21% goes to physician services, 10% to pharmaceuticals (5 billion prescriptions), 8% to nursing homes, 7% to administrative costs, and 23% to all other categories (diagnostic laboratory services, pharmacies, medical device manufacturers, etc.) 

The primary problem with health care is that costs are too high.  Congress should be concentrating on costs instead of universal coverage, a single-payer option, etc.  We pay too much for the care (and the outcome) that we get.  Some have estimated that we’re overspending by at least $710 billion per year, or 31%. 

One aspect of costs that is rarely mention is the principal of supply-and-demand.  Consider how many Americans have the following diseases: 

– Obesity – 102 million
– Heart Disease – 81 million (451,000 deaths)
– Arthritis – 46 million
– Diabetes – 24 million (75,000 deaths)
– Asthma – 21 million
– Cancer – 11 million (559,000 deaths)

These are only the top six diseases, yet the total number of Americans with any of these diseases (285 million) almost equals the total population of the country.  Considering that there are thousands of diseases, a conservative estimate would say that, on average, every man, woman, and child in America has two to three diseases. 

Given the advancements in medicine and technology over the years, this statistic sounds quite alarming.  Below are some possibilities for this number being so high: 

– Advancements in the early detection of diseases
– Our lack of knowledge as to what causes certain diseases such as cancer
– Our neglect of what we do know about the causes (obesity, smoking, etc.)

According to the statistics above, on average, each of us Americans gets about 16 prescriptions per year.  If half of these are short-term prescriptions, and half of them are on-going 90-day prescriptions, then, at any point in time, each of us is taking about three prescription medications.  This is in addition to many over-the-counter medications.  Adding the cost of these medications to our doctor visits, tests, surgeries, etc., we spend about $7,500 per person on our health care every year. 

One of the best ways to drive health care costs down would be to decrease the demand for health care, and perhaps the best way of doing this would be to address the issue of neglect / prevention.  Obviously, many diseases are not (yet) preventable, but we could make a serious dent in the demand for health care if we (as individuals) were better at controlling the demand for the treatment of preventable diseases by taking better care of ourselves

We also need to decrease the many tests, screenings, and unnecessary procedures / surgeries.  This is more difficult, and it would require a joint effort between providers and patients.  Concerning providers, tort reform would result in providers being able to provide more common sense in recommending tests and procedures (instead of just recommending a whole suites of tests only to avoid potential lawsuits).  Likewise, patients should apply more common sense to their response to their doctor’s recommendations.  As patients, we need to be willing to spend some time educating ourselves on diseases and tests, and then help our providers to make better decisions.  After all, who knows our own health better than ourselves?

Why Do We Enjoy Going to Church?

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

In the February, 2010 Reader’s Digest (pages 16-17), psychologist Daniel Gilbert offers insights on how to be happy.  Among his observations, under the heading “Go to Church (Or Somewhere),” is the following paragraph about attending church:

“Churchgoers are happier than non-churchgoers, but not for the reasons people expect.  Our best indication is that it’s not the religion part that makes people happy.  It’s the going-to-church part.  It’s the community part.  It’s the holding hands and singing.  It’s the knowing-folks-who-would-bring-you-soup-if-you-got-sick part.  Odds seem to me pretty good that you could also get all the benefits out of a really tight stamp-collecting club.”

If you are a believer, your knee-jerk reaction to these comments may be to sharply disagree with Gilbert, and to assume that he’s just belittling Christianity.  However, sadly enough, I believe that he has discovered a heart-breaking truth about church.

Ephesians 4:12-16 gives us the purpose of the church, and the real reasons for attending church services:  to prepare us for works of service; to build up (encourage and edify) Christ’s Church in love; and, to reach unity and maturity (“grow up”).  Verse 14 says, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”

It’s time that each of us was honest about why we go to church.  Do we go to church because we want to become mature in Christ, or because we like holding hands and singing?  Are we there in order to prepare ourselves for works of service, or because we want to know someone would bring us soup if we got sick (we want to be served)?  Does our church really have any more to offer than a stamp-collecting club?

Should Government Be a Moral Authority on Homosexuality?

Monday, January 18th, 2010

A new government policy in Canada is targeting homophobia (even more than before), and such movements often spread to the U.S. in short order.  The goal of the new policy is to squash the belief that homosexuality is immoral.  The policy, released last month by Quebec’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General Kathleen Weil, assigns the government the task of eliminating all forms of “homophobia” and “heterosexism” from society, including the belief that homosexuality is immoral.  Just as with “hate crimes” legislation in recent years, the government is appointing itself as the entity responsible for suppressing moral objections to homosexuality. 

Obviously, these types of policies are targeted against those of us who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong.  We are accused of having a “knee-jerk” reaction to homosexuality, and labeled as homophobes.  I have to object to this practice on two different levels. 

In the first place, the government should have no authority in moral leadership.  Also, if we have a reflexive reaction to homosexuality, our reaction is rooted in Biblical truths.  We believe that one has to look at the Scriptures for guidance on this (and every) moral issue.  Although the Bible is sometimes difficult to understand, even a cursory look reveals that this is one topic on which the Bible is absolutely clear, with no gray area at all. 

The Bible portrays homosexuality as one of the most obscene of all immoral acts.  In the Old Testament, homosexuality was punishable by death (Leviticus 20:13), calling this act “detestable.”  In the New Testament, Paul calls this an “indecent” act, telling us in Romans 1:27 that homosexuals “received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” 

If some groups want to give us labels because we have a moral objection to something that the Bible calls a detestable and indecent perversion, it’s their right to do so.  However, there is no place for government entities to intervene as a moral authority.

Beware of Religious Catch-Phrases

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

It seems that faith in America has become politically correct.  A recent news article noted that Americans are surprisingly flexible about religion and faith.  It indicated that nearly six out of ten Americans blend their faith with New Age and Eastern mysticism beliefs.  Americans are mixing and matching their religious beliefs, practices, and rituals with those of other religions.  Regular churchgoers also believe in things like astrology and reincarnation.  Alan Cooperman of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life put it this way, “… they practice in many cases, more than one faith.”

A poll by the Pew Form found that Americans are “personalizing” their faith, picking and choosing what pleases them from a variety of religious traditions.  The survey also found that 25% of Americans attend services of various faiths or denominations.  The poll further found that nearly half of the public report having a “religious or mystical experience… a spiritual awakening.”

As an example of this ecumenical movement, Rabbi David Ingber was raised as an Orthodox Jew, but then practiced Taoism, martial arts and yoga as part of his spiritual journey.  Then, ten years later, he was back to Judaism.  Now he leads his congregation in yoga and meditation.  He believes that he has reached a level of maturity that entitles him to “dabble,” and to “borrow” from other religions.

While reading about this new development, it occurred to me that the media is quite adept at using religious words and catch-phrases in attempting to justify non-Biblical practices.  If we “blend” our faith with New Age beliefs, this doesn’t sound so bad.  (“Blend”–now there’s a word with a deceitfully pleasing sound.)  Surely it’s OK if we just “dabble” and “borrow” from other religions.

One tricky catch-phrase defending this practice was that “God embraces all of us.”  This statement sounds so positive, but it’s actually denying a fundamental Christian doctrine.  John 14:6 says, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

The article used another often-cited, but deceitful, catch-phrase.  It said that we shouldn’t “just ignore” other denominations.”  Well, obviously the Bible teaches us that we should love everyone, and exclude none.  However this statement implies that we should include the belief systems of others into our own.  The Bible repeatedly warns against such practices.  We are to remain steadfast to the truth, and reject false doctrines.  1 Timothy 6:3-5 says, “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”

One person commended “… any place where people are getting in touch with their own sense of the divine.”  Another person indicated that “… there is a way for those who love God to love God together…”  We need to ensure that our “sense of the divine” is the one true God.  We should beware of “religious or mystical experiences” that seem to provide a spiritual awakening.

Another person in the article indicated that people are just trying to “… go beyond the labels.”  Although this sounds nice, certain labels are still valid; such as true and false.

The Shack – A Book Review

Monday, January 4th, 2010

The Shack, by William Paul Young is not the typical kind of book that I normally enjoy.  Although I prefer non-fiction (Bible study, history, biographies, etc.), The Shack proved to be a surprising and uplifting story. 

The personal tragedy described in the first few chapters is so disturbing that I had to finish the book, hoping for a happy ending, but not believing that one was possible.  The tragedy endured by Mack Phillips left him yearning for direct communication with God, no matter how elusive that it seemed. 

Mack does have that direct encounter with God, although God, and His message, were not what he expected.  In his unusual encounter, Mack learns about the Trinity, and about love and relationships.  In this process, he learns how to take the risk of honesty; to love God, and to rest in what trust he has in Him, no matter how small.  Young ironically describes this submission as simple, but never easy. 

You can’t find freedom through guilt.  It’s not God’s will to punish sin.  It’s His joy to cure it.  We need to realize all of the mental turmoil and anxiety in our lives that are related to religion, politics, and economics.  We need to stop trying to build our identity through our jobs and our performance

We must learn how to live and to love, without an agenda.  Then we can realize God’s handiwork:  that out of what seems to be a huge mess “Papa” (God) weaves a magnificent tapestry.