Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Have you ever noticed the way people are extremely fascinated with cataclysmic catastrophes? CNN, FOX, MNBC, ABC-TV, all run continuous live-footage from the scene straight into our living-rooms. Yet, after a few weeks or months, we quickly forget all about theses tragedies. Example, the tsunami that nearly wiped out Sri Lanka back in 2004.... Earthquakes, like the one that dropped the highway-overpass on San Franciscans in 1989; these simply don't remain on our minds for long. Last year China had sever flooding that ruptured dams and destroyed entire cities. Even the focus on the current crisis in Haiti will fade with time. One more word: Katrina.

On the other hand, there's one element related to destruction that seems to remain in vogue, though. Growing up through the Cold War and being an adult at its conclusion (Tear down that wall Mr. Gorbachev!), I've observed that people stay perpetually focused on the "Apocalyptic" style/genre of literature/movies. There was even a style of music driven by this, bands like Metallica, Anthrax and Megadeth... I remember when I was in high school there was the TV-movie, "The day after" which portrayed life after the "bomb" was dropped and what a nuclear "winter" would be like. Who could forget all of the Mel Gibson movies with his "Mad Max" character?

Recently I read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. The Road is now a movie. The book won a Pulitzer, and I'm sure the movie will be successful too. It is a story that covers several months; it's about a father and son who travel cross-county in the aftermath of a nuclear fallout. It was a very depressing setting for a story, but, a moving story of a father's love and dedication for his son.

Within the last month a new movie staring Denzel Washington, "The Book of Eli," hit the theaters. In this movie, Eli travels for THIRTY years across America. He has the last remaining Bible in the world, and he has to protect it from the bad guy who wants to use the Bible to manipulate the remaining survivors...

All most all of these stories have several themes in common: The main character almost always is traveling; usually headed for the coast. Also, he has to scrounge for food while avoid being eaten by the bad guys (yuck). The characters all lament the loss of technology... Inevitably the world is pretty much hopeless, but, the good guy won't give up. Maybe it's that last part, the un-willingness to give up, that tenacity, that keeps fans coming back? I guess these are all stories of survival. The drive to thrive to survive and stay alive taps into that part of our psyche that cries out, that screams, I want to live forever.

I imagine Apocalyptic plots will continue to drive ticket sales and will be a popular obsession until the end of time.... I'm also sure people will continue to try persevere in hopelessness, on and off the movie set. One of our callings as Christians is to help offer hope and comfort in a world filled with suffering.

Paul wrote in II Cor 1:3-7, "3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. 7 Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort."

It is true for some people that reading books and watching movies provides a much-needed brief escape from reality. May we be insightful enough to share the hope we have which is grounded in reality, and, if it takes a discussion about a new book or movie to get others started talking with us, it's not the end of the world after all....

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Warning on helping Haiti

Sad state of affairs

The earthquake in Haiti this week has reportedly been responsible for over 100,000 deaths. I can't imagine that.

Sadly though, beyond the human suffering and loss, there will be parasites that will loot and rob innocent survivors. And, then there will be conniving creeps that sit behind their computers, sending email requests for financial assistance, yet pocketing the money themselves.... I hate that skeptical feeling, but I know it's true.

I'm sure our congregation will help with aid, since we've maintained a longtime relationship with a missionary in Haiti. We've been supporting a work in Haiti for many years; actually exactly in the town of the epicenter. I would recommend that if you or your congregation decide to help with relief/aid that you only commit to helping people you know 1st hand. It's not limiting the aid/assistance; it's actually making certain the resources get to the people who really need it.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Why I think we can't fix health-care

The real issue behind our Heath-care controversy that legislation can't address

It's impossible to listen to the news these days without hearing about politicians fighting tooth & nail over the proposed legislation on heath care. I believe that the research that is ongoing will someday find a cure for AIDS, Parkinson's disease, and other tragic illnesses; and I know that type of research isn't free. And, I'm as thankful as the next guy is we've beat Polio and Smallpox, as well being grateful for my health insurance and the medical professionals that care for us. But, there's a huge issue facing our Country; there is a big problem here, to be sure, and I wonder if you see the same commonsense problem I do?

When it comes to the Heath care controversy, the problem isn't so much that we can't decide as a nation how much or how little Government involvement is appropriate. This isn't a Left VS. Right, or Democrat against Republican issue. The problem isn't really about providing or denying health care for everyone in America. The issue isn't about avoiding deficit spending, or raising taxes. Maybe since I'm not a doctor or a legislator, but a minister, I see it completely different than the majority of the views I see expressed.

I see three concentric problems surrounding our current Health care crisis:
1. Overpriced medical salaries/procedures/prescriptions that continue to escalate way beyond realistic bounds are driving up our insurance premiums beyond reasonable prices, simultaneously.
2. Laziness, or simply a lack of a sense of personal responsibility, on the part of many to take better care of themselves; example, lack of self-control when it comes to overeating and smoking.
3. Having the wrong focus; we value this temporary body more than our eternal souls.

Let me unfold these three problems like this: We've placed a high priority on self-preservation and now we have to pay the price. Sounds shallow, because it is. I like having only a $15 co-pay when I visit my doctor's office, but does my 10-15 minute office visit with really justify $100, or, does the insurance company really have to charge us what they do? The insurance company is banking on the fact that most of the time I'm going to be healthy.... but I'm concerned that I won't always be healthy and I know that medical expenses are unaffordable.... We are too lazy as a nation to exercise properly, and we don't watch what we eat. Those aren't the only two reasons for every single medical issue, but those are the top two reasons why we die from heart disease at an epidemic rate (Please don't misunderstand me, with many medical problems people are completely blameless, such as birth defects or several forms of cancer which are unavoidable) We're greedy, and the "dollar" is driving a lot more of this than we want to admit. We want other people to fix our problems because we don't want to face our own pain. We are in such sorry shape because we want to live in the here-and-now eternally, and we don't want to worry about the afterlife. Bottom line, our priorities are skewed. Health care is only "a" priority, somehow though, we've made it "the" priority.... Even the devil recognizes this, "Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life." (Job 2:4, ESV)

We won't ever really fix the health care issue until we have the right perspective. I don't care which way you slice this; whether you give health care away or charge $1000 a day for insurance, those are sideline issues. There is a deeper reality that somehow has been overlooked... that being, the spiritual reality. Until we are spiritually responsible as a nation, we will never be balanced in our approach to fixing this mess we are in.

Paul wrote that above all else we should keep our focus on eternal matters:
  • "for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (I Tim 4:8, ESV)
  • "16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal." (II Cor 4:16-18, ESV)

I'm all for doctors and hospital-staff members being fairly compensated, but compared to the compensation we offer, say, a school teacher or a bus-driver, are we really all that altruistic? It's true, you put your money where your heart is.... So, as long as we are willing to pay a premium cost for the preservation of our bodies, and neglect so much else, we get what we pay for.