Archive for August, 2009

Lies and Statistics

August 28, 2009

There is an old saying, “There are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics!”  With the current debates in the US about health care reform, this has never been more true.  The problem is actually quite simple, however.  Statistics is viewed as “science” or “math”.  It is the embodiment of “truth” and part of all that we hold dear.  It is not to be questioned!  Unfortunately, a large portion of the US population knows next to nothing about it.

In order to get some “reliable” statistics about health care in the US, I went to Michael Moore’s statistics information for his new movie, Sicko.  It can be read here.  Note, for those brave enough to read it, there is a HUGE difference between “health care” and “health insurance”.  Also note that filing bankruptcy does not, in general, destroy your life.  One quote is: “countries spending substantially less than the US have healthier populations.… The infant mortality rate for the U.S. is now higher than for
many other industrial countries” which is a quote from The Impact of Health Insurance Coverage on Health Disparities in the United States, Human Development Report, UNDP, 2005.  Are you scared for your babies yet?

So, why does this not tell us everything it seems to?  Let’s go to the CDC website for birth facts and find out.  Two facts pop out: 1) 8.3% of babies are born with low birth weight.  2) 38.5% are born to unwed mothers.  This can’t be good.  How does it compare with other countries?  Childinfo.org has some information here, but it doesn’t tell us a whole lot.  The CDC has more facts here and here.  The short version is, low birth weight is linked to high infant mortality.  So, if the US has the highest rate of low birth weights among industrial countries, then the high infant mortality rate would make sense.  Looking at the childinfo.org site, this seems to be the case.

As you start digging, you find references to the age of the birth mother as a risk factor for low birth weights.  I recall hearing a lot of discussions about teen pregnancy rates in the US over the past decade.  Could behavior be a health risk factor?  Ask the obese people suffering from heart disease!  After digging, what we can find is that a “health statistic” is not necessarily an indictment of the US health care industry.  It may be an indictment of the behaviors US citizens engage in.

There is a valid statistic that indicates the US has an unusually high infant mortality rate.  The problem is: that statistic doesn’t tell us anything.  What needs to be examined is infant mortality rates among married women in various age ranges and unmarried women in various age ranges.  Unfortunately, while the CDC has some excellent statistics for what’s happening in the US, it’s harder to get the same data for other countries.  Hint: being a teenage mother is a major risk factor for a low birth weight baby.  25-35 is the optimal age range.

Statistics are worse than lies, the tell the truth, but not the whole truth.  Unless you dig a little, you are unlikely to have the necessary information to draw a meaningful conclusion.  This gets worse when people have an agenda.  If someone presents statistics about insured and uninsured people, be suspicious.  You don’t need insurance to get health care!  The emergency room has to accept you.  If you are uninsured, have a heart attack, get saved, and file bankruptcy, that is better than being dead and financially solvent.  When someone presents a statistic, please dig a little deeper.  Ask for details, especially when they aren’t being provided in the argument.  It could make a huge difference in understanding what’s actually going on.

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We Are Censoring Our Own Bible!

August 27, 2009

I have no doubt that the title of this blog will offend many people.  It’s not like we tear out Acts chapter 5 because we don’t like it, after all.  We don’t remove the messy bits in Genesis where Lot’s daughters got him drunk and raped him (located so conveniently next to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah).  How can I say we’re censoring the Bible?

I want you to think over the many sermons you’ve heard over the years.  How many of them came from the book of Zephaniah?  When did you last hear a rousing sermon from Habakkuk?  Perhaps from Leviticus?  When it comes to preaching from the Bible, the Old Testament seems to be a second-class citizen.  Those who seek to mock Christians spend more time reading the Old Testament law than we Christians do!

How many times have you heard Christianity mocked, because we wear clothes with two different threads in them (Leviticus 19:19)?  How many times have you heard why lepers were required to shout “Unclean” (Leviticus 13:45)?  Do you even know if you’re unclean right now?  Do you know if it matters?

The reality is that, as Christians, we are not under the Law.  However, you should not be surprised if some non-Christians try to use the law against you.  Given that, it makes perfect sense that we would spend more time in the New Testament than the old.

Now, do you know any prophecies about Jesus?  OK, there’s that one chapter in Isaiah (Chapter 11).  Now, where’s the prophecy that states he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2)?  Do you know where the first prophecy about Jesus is (Genesis 3:15)?  We hear about all the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, but we spend very little time reading them.  Worse, we spend almost no time reading them in context.

Moving on to the New Testament proper, when’s the last time you heard preach that focused on a passage from Hebrews?  I’ve heard it as a supporting passage from time to time, but I can’t recall a preaching series from Hebrews.  Let’s be honest; I Corinthians is a lot more fun!  Hebrews reads like a dissertation from seminary.  I Corinthians  talks about spiritual gifts and all that cool stuff!

I fear that there are many people who go to church every Sunday who do not read their Bibles at home.  For those people, their knowledge of the Bible will be shaped by what they hear in church.  Do they know the history of the Jewish people?  Do they know that the Jews were from the tribe of Judah, of the nation of Israel?  Do they know the time-lines of Israel’s history?  Do they know how long it took to get a king, and what a mess that was?  Do they know any kings besides Saul, David, and Solomon?  Do they know when the northern and southern kingdoms split, or why?

The Bible is a massive book.  Have you read it?  Have your friends?  Is anyone helping you understand it?  If not, how much of the Bible doesn’t exist for you?

You Can Be A Missionary For Christ

August 9, 2009

In our quest to reach out seek and save the lost, we often miss the most fruitful mission ground of all: the person in the pew next to us. Americans spend thousands of dollars to send missionaries around the world in an effort to spread the Gospel. Unfortunately, we frequently assume the people on either side of us already know the message they help fund with their tithes.

Start with a simple question: do you know the Gospel? You should be able to state it in about five sentences without quoting the Bible. Don’t spout off “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, so that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have eternal life.” If you know what it means, say it in other words that aren’t loaded with assumed meaning. If you don’t know what it means, you really need to stop anything you’re doing in church and find out.

Add another question to this. Assuming you’ve just clearly stated the Gospel, when’s the last time you heard it clearly stated in your church? This is an important question. I’ve been in some churches where I could be there for years, and not hear the Gospel stated in a service. If you haven’t heard the Gospel recently, then odds are the person next to you hasn’t, either.

Now, let’s get tougher. Have you accepted the Gospel? Not just acknowledged it as a fact that is true, but incorporated it into your life? Have you committed yourself to seeking to be obedient to God? Do you life your life knowing that you are a sinner, whose life was paid for by Jesus? Do you understand that your sins deserve a punishment that was more extreme than the scourging and crucifixion as portrayed in The Passion of the Christ? Are you grateful for Jesus taking that punishment for you, or do you avoid the knowledge with a deep sense of shame?

Here is the ultimate question. Does your life show it? This isn’t about whether you go to church on Sunday morning, or whether you sing in the choir, or whether you sometimes make a mistake. This is about your deepest, core values. Do you read the Bible when no one’s watching? Do you limit the things you read on the Internet? Do you worry more about what people think about you, or what God thinks of you?

As you think about all these things, I want you to realize something very important. If you have troubles with these questions, how would the person next to you answer them? Do you know? Do you have any idea? Before you worry about making sure a missionary can make it to China, or Iraq, or the South Bronx, make sure you know where the person next to you stands. If you don’t know, do something radical: find out.

Why Do We Fund Church The Way We Do?

August 5, 2009

There is something that bothers me as I sit here.  It is the sense of wrongness that is inherent in how the church is run.  I speak of it as a single entity, even though I know there are multiple denominations, each with their own structure, hierachy, means of accountability, etc.  Everything feels wrong.

The concept of tithing is just one example of the sense of wrong that I have.  Iwould challenge you to look at the justifications that are used to explain why Christians are to tithe.  Consistently, the first place that pastors go is to the Old Testament.  The tithe was given to the priests, the sons of Levi.  In Numbers 18: 20-24 it is made clear that the priests, the Levites, were to receive the tithe instead of an inheritance of land.  However, we are not under the Law of the Old Testament that was given to the nation of Israel.  We are under a new convenant of Grace!  Moreover, we are all to be priests!  So then, to whom are we to tithe?  For that matter, do you see any pastors forswearing the right to own property in exchange for a tithe?  I didn’t think so.

Let’s look instead at the New Testament, in which we are to be in fellowship with one another and share EVERYTHING with each other.  Acts 2:44-46 shows a vision where people are pooling their resources and giving freely to one another as needs arise.  All the people were doing all the work.  Compare this with “the work of the church” in America today.  Many of those who are poor or in need don’t even go to the local church at all!  They go to the local welfare office.  We send missionaries to Peru, and Iraq, and France, forgetting that the uttermost ends of the Earth are just down the street.

Where does your tithe go?  Whose life do you touch with the money you place in the coffer?  Do you even know?  I can tell you the last time I remember touching someone’s life.  My wife and I went to Waffle House (not a classy joint, as I’m sure you could guess), and the waitress was clearly having a rough day.  For a meal that cost less than $20, we left a tip of either $10 or $20 (I can’t recall now).  We could just hear her reaction as we were stepping out the door.  Her life was touched.  She knew someone cared.  There was a face behind that money.  Who knows you care?  The church accountant?

I think we’ve forgetten that the Gospel is about having a personal relationship with Jesus.  We want to see people get saved, but we don’t want to get personal.  It’s messy!  Well, guess what.  Relationships are messy.  I should know, I’ve had a few of them over the years.  My mom, my dad, my wife, my sister, my friends, not a one of them has gone perfectly.  I have some regrets, but I’m better for having those relationships than not.  I cannot model Christ to a picture in a postcard.  Sure, I can send money, but the United States has been sending money to African nations for years to no avail.

Love isn’t about sending money someplace.  Love is what you do when your buddy calls you at 2am asking if you can run him to the hospital because he hurts too bad to walk.  Love is what you do when your girlfriend has a fever and you crash on the cot in case she needs you to get her something during the night.  Love is when you look a bum in the eye, and buy him a burger and a shake, and tell him who sent him food.  Love is when you give him $10 for dinner that night.

Relationships are messy things.  Love demands that you get right in the center of the messiest parts of people’s lives.  It’s a funny thing.  Jesus washed his disciples’ feet.  They stank, I promise you.  Jesus talked to an adulteress and forgave her, as well as telling her to knock it off.  Jesus hung out with a prostitute.  I think we’d find Jesus walking the streets, talking with hookers, drug addicts, and chewing out pastors if he were here today.

And while you think about the tithe, remember that it had to be the sole means of support for approximately 8% of the entire population of Israel.  Do you have that many of your church’s members working full time at your church?  I didn’t think so.  I bet you found that with around one in every twelve men a priest, there were a lot of small groups that gathered on Saturdays.  You couldn’t do business.  You couldn’t work, or watch football, or do a lot of other things.  I think people talked about God.  All day.  Together.  In small groups.

Can you name twelve people in your church that you could see hanging out with every Sunday afternoon?  I’m not talking about doing Sunday School for an extra long session, I’m talking about talking.  At some point, you’ll talk about your worries, your pains, your illnesses, everything.  And you’ll pray for each other and mean it.  Maybe you’ll gather some money when one of you breaks a leg, and find that you had $200 for food for the week.  And maybe, just maybe, you’ll have time to take turns cooking for your buddy as well.

I’d love to hear stories like this in churches, where people speak about it as a normal occurance.  Heck, you could invite a coworker to hang out on a Sunday afternoon.  It would be a radically different way of doing church.  It would be almost… Biblical.