29 Jul 2009

Health Care Overhaul?

Submitted by Paul Brown

President Obama is on the campaign trail stumping for health care reform. The cost of health insurance in the United States is relatively high, and it seems there is some serious discussion going on about how to bring those costs down.

While President Obama is pressing the dire need for health care (insurance) reform to the American people, Congress are working on figuring out how that might actually get done. From what I understand, there are at least three different health care bills being formulated. There is the House version, which seems to be hung up on how to recover the vast cost of their plan. There is the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee plan, which includes a public option (i.e. government-run insurance) to compete with traditional insurance carriers. Finally, there is the Senate Finance Committee plan, which is being worked out by Democrats and Republicans together and which it appears will not include a public option but which will address many of the other issues that everyone seems to agree are important (coverage of pre-existing conditions, coverage for those who cannot afford insurance).

For me, the most maddening aspect of this whole health care overhaul push is the massive amount of political pressure that Pres. Obama is asserting and the opacity of the various plans themselves. What in the world are they cooking up? I could not care less what nice things Obama has to say about what he wants to see on his desk; what are the Representatives and Senators actually drafting as legislation? Where is the thoughtful explanation, critique, and defense of the specific points of the plans?

The White House actually has a website set up specifically for Health Care Reform, but it adds nothing more than reinforcement to the administration's basic talking points: REFORM!! NOW!!

I came upon this informative interview of Regina Herzlinger, author of Who Killed Health Care: America's $2 Trillion Problem - and the Consumer-Driven Cure, on Minnesota Public Radio, and it seems to be quite informative. Moving from employer-based insurance to consumer-based insurance makes a lot of sense! It is only by historical fluke (wage controls during WWII) that employers are wrapped up in our health insurance in the first place....

These are interesting days that we live in, no doubt about that!

20 Jul 2009

Introverts and the Mission of God

Submitted by Paul Brown

One thing that I have struggled with for the last—well, for as long as I've been serious about following Jesus—has been how to engage in evangelism. With the new emphasis that I've tuned into over the last couple years on being "missional", I have set my sights on the first stepping stone: connecting with people so as to build new friendships. It seem to me that talking about my faith is relatively easy within the context of a significant friendship. Building that relationship, though, is what I find difficult.

As I was thinking about this a bit last night and this morning, I got to wondering if this is a common problem for "introverts" like me. We are committed to the idea of living in such a way as to display the gospel and open doors for the proclamation of Christ, but we have great difficulty putting that commitment into practice by meeting new people and building new relationships, falling well short of our objective of demonstrating the gospel in love and proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

A little searching on Google this morning revealed that I am not alone in dealing with this issue. One of the first pages I came across was "Are Introverts The Sugar In the Kingdom's Missional Gas Tank?" by Anthony Bradley. I don't know Anthony and only happened upon his blog because of the results that Google threw at me, so I don't know if his post is as condescending as it would seem to be on the face of it or if he is intentionally kicking up some dust to provoke thought and discussion. To be generous, let's assume the latter. :)

Here is Bradley's key statement: "Introverts do not typically live missional lives because they would rather read theology books than talk to non-Christians about the gospel or engage local culture with the Kingdom...."

This, I think, is both true and untrue. It is certainly true that I would rather read than talk to non-Christians in certain circumstances, but I don't have a problem with talking to a non-Christian per se. I have a few good friends who are not believers, and we get along great and are able to talk about all sorts of things, including Jesus and faith. Nonetheless, when it comes to cold-calling on my neighbors or walking around downtown and talking to random people, I will probably not do it of my own initiative, and if I do it at all, it's probably because I couldn't think of any other idea for how to connect to these people.

If those of us who can generally be described as introverted yield to our natural inclinations, I think we do end up staying within our comfortable circle of existing friends (Christians in most cases) and sticking to social situations that feel safe. And that safe, insular behavior would, indeed, be the metaphorical "sugar in the kingdom's missional gas tank". However—and this is a big however—if we are able through the gospel to both embrace who we are as the image of God with our own unique personality and its attendant strengths and weaknesses and embrace the mission to which God has called us as ministers of reconciliation, then I think we can play a significant part in God's kingdom work.

Where does that leave me? That leaves me keenly aware of my need for grace to cover my many sins of omission and desparately needy for the power of the Holy Spirit to work in my weakness, using who he has made me to be in Christ (not in the sinful nature!) to pursue God's mission and his glory.

Additional Reading:
Introverted Church (Soon to publish a book)
What can God do with an Introvert?
Can Introverts Plant Churches? (Part 1, Part 2)
Introverts: You Can Evangelize
Does Mission have an Extroverted Bias?
An Introvert at Church
Top 10 Ways to Market to Introverts

18 Jul 2009

Holy Dissatisfaction

Submitted by Paul Brown

I've been reading through How People Change by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp in preparation for our Regeneration retreat next weekend, and the book is full of quotable paragraphs. I read a passage in the book this morning that particularly encouraged me, and so I share it here. From the chapter entitled "Thorns 1: What Entangles You?" (p. 119 of the second edition):

God calls you to be dissatisfied. You should be discontent, restless, and hungry! The Christian life is a state of thankful discontent or joyful dissatisfaction. That is, I live every day thankful for the grace that has changed my life, but I am not satisfied. Why not? Because, when I look at myself honestly, I have to admit that I am not all I can be in Christ. I am thankful for the many things in my life that would not be there without his grace, but I will not settle for a partial inheritance!

In this sense, it is right for me to be discontent. It is right for me to want nothing less than all that is mine in Christ. He does not want us to enjoy only a small portion of the riches he has given us. He calls us to wrestle, meditate, watch, examine, fight, run, persevere, confess, resist, submit, follow, and pray until we have been transformed into his likeness.

This life of self-examination and joyful discontent should not be confused with a life of paralyzing self-condemnation. God does not call us to self-loathing, but to a willingness to examine our lives in light of our hope as new creatures in Christ. That hope is not only based on the promise of forgiveness, but on his promise of personal deliverance and restoration as well. The same grace that has forgiven me is now in the process of radically changing me. I should not be satisfied until that transformation is complete. (Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp How People Change)

This brought to mind a couple of other quotes:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." (C.S Lewis, The Weight of Glory—I think)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (The Apostle Paul, Philippians 3:10-14

13 Jul 2009

Late last week I received my copy of Sojourn Music's new album Over the Grave: The Hymns of Isaac Watts, Vol. 1. You can catch some samples at their Facebook or Myspace pages.

I've listened through the album a couple of times since receiving it, and I really enjoy Over the Grave. The musical style is hard for me to describe, but to my ears it is a nice blend of refreshing non-pop creativity and engaging riffs. Though there are, as usual with any album, some songs that I enjoy better than others, I haven't found any yet that I just hit "next" and skip over.

As the album sub-title suggests, the lyrics are adapted from Isaac Watts hymns, most of them little-known. Using lyrics from long ago of course does not guarantee that the words will be accurate and edifying, but Over the Grave draws on work that focuses on Christ as our redeemer from sin, our hope in suffering, and judge of the world—themes that are worth sinking your teeth into.

To order a copy for yourself head over to the Sojourn Bandcamp store.

Other, more complete reviews:
Justin Taylor
Bob Thune

9 Jul 2009

"Run Fatboy Run" and Perseverance

Submitted by Paul Brown

Last night after we finished up with our chores for the day, Holly and I enjoyed an evening in with popcorn and a movie. We watched Run Fatboy Run, a British romantic comedy about a man, Dennis, who left his pregnant bride Libby at the altar. As the movie progresses, we see that the man, Dennis, is basically a goof-off loser who does stupid thinks like scratching his private parts while on the job as a retail store security guard and teaching his son to play practical jokes on joggers at the park. Dennis never follows through on commitments and seems to be going nowhere in life.

This all changes when he meets Whit, the man that Libby has been dating. Whit is a successful businessman who is fit and kind and overall seems to have his life together. Whit is preparing to run in a charity marathon and Dennis, though he is terribly out of shape and smokes regularly, decides to run the marathon as well to prove that he can change and finish something.

WARNING: Plot Spoiler Ahead!

Dennis works hard to train for the marathon and actually seems to get into reasonable shape. His friend and his landlord help him train by encouraging him and occasionally smacking him with a metal spatula. Shortly before the race, Whit and Libby get engaged, albeit with some apparent hesitation from Libby. Dennis is devastated and nearly gives up on the race. He has a crucial conversation with his son in which he explains the importance of not running from challenges but pushing through and sticking with it even when the situation is really hard. At the end of the conversation, Dennis' son asks him, "Is that what you do, Daddy?" Dennis has an Aha! moment and determines that he will run the marathon, not to win Libby back but for himself, to finally finish something.

The film wraps up as any good romantic comedy should: The day of the race, Dennis overcomes long odd and extreme adversity to run and complete the marathon, defeating his rival Whit. Whit shows his true stripes and turns out to be a coward and an arrogant jerk. Libby is impressed by Dennis' resolve and accepts a dinner date with him. Everything works out in the end. (See a somewhat more complete synopsis over at Wikipedia.)

END PLOT SPOILER

The moral to the story of Run Fatboy Run was simple: If you don't persevere, you get nowhere. If you persevere, you might beat your rival and get the girl, and at the very least you will earn your own self-respect.

This is a good moral, one which all of us ought to take to heart. Jesus says things like "he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mat 24:13, Mrk 13:13) or "by standing firm you will gain life" (Lk 21:19). But how does perseverance fit with the gospel? Does this idea of sticking with goals and tasks motivate me to rely more upon myself and my own willpower? Or does it move me to a greater appreciation of my own weakness and the surpassing greatness of Christ, leading me to cast myself more upon him?

Fortunately, Scripture teaches that my perseverance ultimately depends upon God rather than on me. "He [Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." (1 Cor 1:8-9) "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Cor 1:21-22)

Scripture also teaches that the means of perseverance is to dwell in Christ and continually look to him. "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Heb 12:2-3, see also John 15:1-8)

From that, I can see that perseverance with respect to standing firm in the faith is dependent on and focused on the Lord. Well and good and certainly worth remembering! But what about perseverance in other tasks? Like running a marathon or pursuing a relationship? Life isn't a romantic comedy, and we have no guarantee of success. How can I be focused on the gospel even as I pursue goals that I may or may not reach no matter how hard I work?

Let me offer a few suggestions for applying the gospel to day-to-day perseverance:

  1. Remember that God is sovereign (Jam 4:13-17) and trust in his grace and his goodness. In light of that, you don't need to fear failure.
  2. Remember that you are created in God's image (Gen 1:26). You were made to exercise creative ability and get things done.
  3. Remember that the world is fallen and getting things done takes hard work and diligence. (Gen 3:17)
  4. Remember that success will merit you no more favor with God and that failure will take no favor away. If you are in Christ, his full and complete obedience is already yours by faith, and you can neither add to it nor take away from it.
    1. I'm sure there are probably more and better approaches as well, but that should give a start. The comment box is open!

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