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Scripture

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Today, a friend whose known me for many years sent me this on Facebook:

Hey Todd, I am wondering what you think about health care reform. It is expensive, but as a country, should we have millions of people not have access to health care in the United States of America? I know you & I love you as a Godly man…. That is why I am asking what you are thinking. How can Christian people be against healthcare for all American Citizens? I am confused. In my heart, I KNOW Jesus didn’t have this in the plan. He would like us to have healthcare regardless of our income & job status.

These are some of my thoughts in reply to Hester.

Hester, I’m honored you think so highly of me and I’ll try to be faithful in my reply. There are two ways that I will provide a response – one from my understanding of God based on the Bible’s record and one based on my hopes and concerns about the specific proposals in America.

First, scripture: You are correct in that God does not wish for people to suffer. The Biblical record puts all suffering as the result of our separation from God – which man asked for in rebelling against God through the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, and boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16) – first via Adam and Eve in the Garden (Genesis 3:6 original sin) but we’ve all done the same personally (Roman 3:23). In fact, Adam was told he’d die (Gen 2:15-17) – and actually, we kind of did. People are more than our Bodies or even our Souls/Minds – which is the only domains that health care really considers. Our heavenly Father has an even bigger picture than that.

Let’s say that I had two different types of medicine that could make a person whole. I offer you a blue pill that makes you whole today but today only or a red pill that could make you whole completely for the rest of your unending life by tomorrow and better today though not fully whole today). Which would you take? Or you could look at it like the story of the prodigal son – who wants his inheritance today so he can be separate from the father but only waste it, when he had everything of the Father already and forever. Luke 15:11-24. We are made of body, soul and spirit. We completely died in sin in our Spirit. That’s the real us that took our inheritance and went into a foreign land and connected our self with a citizen of that land (Satan) and he ravishes our mind and our bodies bringing illness. God is all about loving us to the place where we return to him so he can separate us from Satan and gives us the spirit of his son, Jesus, as our very life. The mind is then renewed by the word of God which makes us much better, even in this life, but the body, in this life will never be whole. The Bible says we will be given new bodies just as the prodigal son in the story was given new clothes. (1 Cor 15:35-50; Phil 3:20-21).

Even so, God does provide substantial healing of the body in a variety of ways. 1) right living –the law in the Old Testament provides many practical guidelines of sanitation, proper food types, handling, preparation; and many other guides to successful living that produced health and this centuries before the world knew about germs 2) the body’s ability to heal itself which is quite substantial 3) via the ability for man to think and gain knowledge and wisdom – providing doctors and scientist that create new techniques and medications every day that further enhance health . 4) by the power of the spirit of God. Still men will never be healed forever in body. Also, clearly, Christ did not heal everyone he came into contact with and their own belief in the ability to be healed played a factor in the healing too. So if we don’t believe in God or healing, well, #4 likely not so available in our life. But if you don’t believe in doctors, you have the same problem and if you don’t eat right, care for your body – well, that affects you too. We have our part to do if we will obtain health which I will come back to in a moment.

But you must understand that Christians (and God) look at the long tomorrow. This life is only the dot where the pen first comes down to draw a line that goes on forever. The line is the thing – not just the dot. When Christians pray for someone, they are right to pray for God’s will even if that means death at this time – because we believe that death means you are going home to see God face to face, to be free of all human suffering and to receive an imperishable body. This is the ultimate healing. If you trust that God is good and knows the best course of action for you, then it is not hard to accept this – just as Jesus modeled in Gethsemane Matt 26:39. However, God did not choose to bring us home as soon as we returned to him – he chose to leave us here on earth to love others as Jesus loved us so that they too may come to know the life and love God has for them. This is why St. Paul says: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Phil 1:21.

Even though eternity is way bigger than this temporal body, I still would very much like everyone to have healthcare – but I would also like everyone who can work to work – and socialistic and welfare systems do not encourage that. Why doesn’t the government fix that problem. Then, everyone that is not working but could would be able to be go to work and buying health insurance. Hmmmm.

St. Paul gave this rule to the churches, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 2 Thes 3:10 The Christian point of view is that we should help those in need – but when in need, not indefinitely. In the story of the Sheep and Goats – Matt 25:31-46, Jesus commends or rebukes based on people feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, etc. – but he is not saying feed the lazy or bail out the fiscally irresponsible over and over. We all have times we need to be carried and there are some people for which that time is longer or even forever – but there are many people living that way that do not really need handout help; they need help being held accountable for their choices and actions and government policies should embody that – otherwise, they are incenting the deterioration of society.

The Bible supports the idea that people should be taken care of by community. Specifically, it teaches the church should support widows and orphans. Sadly, it does far too little of this today which I believe is part of the problem; the church has abdicated its responsibility and it’s members feels justified in only complaining about the government’s handling. This, of course, was what the Pharisees did too and they were the group Jesus tended to be most frustrated with – the religious self-righteous.

However, the Bible teaches that a family should take care of Widows instead of expecting the church (or the government) to take care of them. 1 Tim 5:3-16. Other qualifications are that she should be older than 60 (a younger woman should be able to take care of herself) and even if she is older, that she should live responsibly rather than for personal pleasure – suggesting the idea of moral and fiscal responsibility and limited community resources. Paul is saying the church can help with necessity but not niceties.

Hopefully, that gives you some context of a Christian point of view. Not saying that healthcare for all is not a great thing – just sharing some of the points of view you might gain from scripture broadly.

Now getting to my opinions on healthcare reform, I am very concerned about it. If at Dell, we had a system that worked 80% of the time, we’d likely want to improve it – but we would hardly throw it out for an untried system or substandard system. As a Christian, I desire a for everyone to have healthcare but I want that in a system that provides for people better than our current medicare system which is what the Government has run. I’d much rather see the Government setup regulations and rules on private insurance that would bring about sensible healthcare for all and that not necessarily free (except for those who really need free).

For instance, the government made liability car insurance mandatory and voila, most everybody has liability insurance on their car – but they don’t run the car insurance companies. Why not? If they can’t handle something as simple as car insurance, should they really be running something as complex as health care. Businesses are better able to support business and it should be that way. Government should force some reforms on some bad practices that shut out small businesses or various people (pre-existing condition, specific conditions, etc.). They should stop all the crazy lawsuits that have brought the cost up so high. They should make it mandatory that worker purchase it and provided limited free or reduced insurance (sort of the way Cobra is offered if laid off), the incentive being to get another job! In my opinion, these types of improvements to the current system are way more desirable, less costly, and will provide better, more reliable care than any government run system.

So in closing, I don’t see any scriptural basis for a government run healthcare system though I do see support for families providing for family members needs and community providing for those who have no other support.  The scripture places this support as the church’s role and nowhere suggest it as the government’s role.  Still, the Bible strongly tells Christians to submit to government authorities (Matt 22:21; Romans 13:1) as they are ordained by God (and the church was saying this while the likes of Nero were in power which is far worst than anything we suffer with our politicians).  I believe a better healthcare proposal would reform the current one; providing government regulations of business and reforms of government practices.  I think a government run system will be a disaster for everyone, providing increasingly substandard healthcare and imposing a huge tax burden to coming generations.  However, if it comes, I will accept it (unless it can be changed to something better after everyone supporting it wakes up) and live with it as best possible given the options available.

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train2Living in Hutto, one can’t help but experience the joy of trains – to the point that joy ceases to be the experience.  Since the town is divided by railroad tracks, encountering trains is pretty much a daily occurrence.  The audio tracks, pun intended, play their rap every quarter hour for those who live close enough.  Paul Simon recorded a song with the refrain, “Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Everybody thinks it’s true”.  I’m not quite sure what he meant by everybody thinks it’s true but I can assure you that whatever he meant, it is not true that everybody loves the sound of a train, even in the distance.

It was this very thought that tunneled into my mind along with the train that accompanied it at about two this morning as I was having trouble sleeping.  We are fortunate to be far enough away as to not notice the sound most of the time but lying awake in the quiet sleeping house is not one of those times. 

train1I begin to think about what nuisance these trains were as the sound of the train invaded my consciousness. There is no station here in Hutto.  They are not delivering or picking up cargo or passengers.  There is no partnership with the city.  Trains push through town bringing traffic to a halt and interrupting life with noise, yet they give nothing to the town. If you know anything about the railroad, you will know that they have huge power to do whatever they want – they are not under city, county or state jurisdiction.   There are many crossing improvements that the railroad could make for this town of 20,000 that has the same number of crossings that it did when it only had 600.  While the tide of trains through town is regular and frequent, improvements are slow to roll into town if they come at all.

Then I got to thinking that people are like this in many ways.  Unless the people we encounter become passengers on our train, provide cargo we care about or are meeting us at one of our scheduled stops, we are usually just rolling through.  In our busyness, we are moving too fast to stop, we have our schedule to keep, and I’ll be gone 500 miles when the day is done.  I think we all understand this reality and we don’t think about it much.  

Perhaps this phenomenon is a necessity of life, which by nature has a point of origin and a point of destination and the rails in between cannot help but be travelled each and every day.  Occasionally we lament just like Steve Goodman did – “Half way home, we’ll be there by morning.… And all the towns and people seem to fade into a bad dream.…this train’s got the disappearing railroad blues”.  We come to these places in the night and wonder about the switches in the tracks we didn’t take, knowing we are half way home and watching the rail fade away seemingly faster with each hour heading down to the sea and the morning light.  Perhaps, we don’t think about it much because we just can’t bear it and we’re maybe a little scared of that final termination point. So we clear our minds and drop into the tunnel of sleep that emerges into bright daylight, the stoking up of engines, and a new day’s journey where the noise and heat of the rails overcome those quiet evening thoughts.

We certainly cannot be God and know each and every passenger, visit every town, haul all cargo. We must choose.  In some sense, we don’t even really do that.  We are more like passengers riding this rail for the first time knowing very little about where the rail will take us or what the odyssey will bring.  Yet most of us act as if we are in complete control and like we own the railroad. We’d be wise to talk to those who had gone before us and even more so to the conductor who is always singing his song for us again hoping we will refrain from our assumed control of his job and would instead enjoy the ride and the interactions that come to us.

Perhaps our difficulty stems from our preoccupation with trying to run the railroad of our life when we are really only passengers.  Jesus clearly had a purpose and was focused on it yet every interaction along the path was savored and given attention.  He said things like – I only do what my Father tells me to do. So, if he found that God had put him alone at a well with a Samaritan woman – he demonstrated God’s love to her. If the Pharisees setup a trap for him by exploiting an adulterous woman, he loved them both enough to rescue them from the error of their ways without condemning either of them for their treachery. If a Centurion’s daughter needed healing, he would heal her while encouraging this “heathen” that he was actually a man of faith and simultaneously helping the assumed faithful realize their need for His faith.

If anyone’s track of life was well predicted, it was our Lord’s.  There are over 300 prophecies concerning Jesus that he fulfilled.  He was clearly aware of these too for he told men such as John the Baptist to perform actions they thought unnecessary for Jesus – because “it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness”.  Jesus knew God’s vision for His life and was totally focused on it yet able to say in the same prayer both, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”, and, “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.”  Purpose and people always went hand-in-hand with him.

Perhaps, if we will rest from “working on the railroad…all the live-long day”, we could realize that these interactions with other passengers is our primary work.  We aren’t meant to “work on the railroad…just to pass the time away.  We are passengers with a purpose on a specific track, on a specific run, on a specific train.  We can rest in our work when we let God do his, when we avoid lamenting about those tracks and trains we can’t ride and when we instead embrace in love those he has given us as we ride the rail of our life.  Jesus was known for the way his love impacted other people and the life he lost, trusting God to raise him up.  If we will be his disciples, we will have to give up our life to make time for Jesus to impact the lives of other people through us. Faith is trusting God that is we lose our life, he will resurrect us.  This is what it is to deny ourselves daily, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.

As I wrote this, the rumble and ruckus of another train builds as it comes from the distance soon to diminish in the dark of the night on the other side of our town.  The whistle blows to warn passengers it is crossing our path and for us, these are the only interactions.  But for those riding the train, I hope there is much more as the expedition continues. 

Lord, help me to rest in the joy of being a passenger on the train you have put me on.  Keep me from wasting too much time staring out the window into the darkness or the whizzing-by world of wishful thinking. Help me trust you who knows the tracks and the course and the power of the engines of my life – that you have all that worked out and I can add nothing to it.  Help me to enjoy the freedom you’ve given me in your rest in Jesus – to enjoy the companionship of the fellow passengers you’ve given me on this unique voyage of my life.  Help me bring you glory in the awesome work of my life, living in Christ and loving and encouraging those you’ve given to me.  Dear friends, get ready, there’s a train a coming, You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board. Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

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“You believe at last!” Jesus answered. But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   -John 16:31-33

I believe in the Lord – not just that he exist – but that he died bearing all the sins of the world past, present and future.  I believe that by believing that and asking his death to count for my sins and asking his resurrected life to become my own, that Jesus becomes the Lord and my very life rather than Satan or myself.  This is my faith.  This I believe.

Yet, like my brothers, the disciples, how often do I leave Jesus alone and go back to my old home and old haunts. I paint pictures of Egypt and leave out what it lacks (see Sara Grove’s song).   “The time is coming and has come”, Jesus says-and so it goes with me.  I am scattered by these fears and pains and I run.  As Sara adds, it not about losing faith or trust – it just about being comfortable.  That old home is so known and comfortable even though it is meaningless and futile.  It can no longer fulfill me but it is so easy to escape to.

In 2000, I took a 10 day journey through the back country of Philmont Scout Reservation with my oldest son, Justin, and a group of Boy Scouts and adult leaders.  We had to carry everything we needed for the entire journey on our backs.  Our trek led us away from base camp to the furthest point away before bringing us back.  For us the furthest point away was climbing to the second highest mountain in Philmont, Mt. Philips, and staying the night.  The climb was well above the water line so we would have no access to water from the base camp the day we started until after the descent the next day.

As a result, we split gear from one of the adults, my friend, Gary, and he carried half his gear plus 5 gallons of water on his back.  It was a very difficult thing for him as he slowly paced up the mountain because he had had knee issues before.   He slowly kept going at an even pace even when the scouts would sprint faster ahead then rest from exhaustion.  It was like the tortoise and the hare all the way up. The air was so thin at the top of the mountain that you would wake up from sleep feeling as if you were suffocating.  It was a difficult part of our trek.

Gary and I found a great analogy to our half-hearted walk with Christ in that place. Being at the half way point, any accident we would have encountered – it would take just as long to press forward as to go back.  There was no escaping the difficulty of the journey.  Gary kept pressing on because there was no option.  But in our Christian adventure, we can walk in the spirit one minute, but when we feel overwhelmed by that, we can turn our minds and hearts from him the next and simply return to the comfort of the couch, the TV and the tangible.

We may leave Jesus alone, but he is not alone – his Father is with him.  We may feel we are alone and long for home, but we are not – our Father is with us.  We need to learn to weep in those moments as men longing for our real home as Rich Mullins shares in his wonderful song, If I Stand.   Sara gets to this idea too – “The place I had wasn’t perfect But I had found a way to live It wasn’t milk or honey But then neither is this”.  We think that part of our longing for comfort is the desire to get back to what we know – but when we examine it, we find “the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I”ve learned” and that our real longing is to fully know him who we can only see dimly now. 

Recognizing that we are our weeping is a longing for our heavenly home is helpful.  It isn’t so much that we want those old, familiar death clothes, that we want to return.  It is that we long to see Him face-to-face.  Proverbs 13:12 clarifies this, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”  Don’t we really long for the tree of life?   Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”.  Also, we are longing to be free from sin and this longing that pulls us back and on that day, our flesh and the world and God’s adversaries will no longer plague us.  It is helpful to identify our longing, not for the comfort of what was behind but for the glory that is before us so we can set our minds in that direction.  Phil 4:8 “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”  Galatians 5:5

Perhaps the most fascinating thing Jesus says to the disciples in this passage is, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.”  If we were telling our friends that they were going to abandon us in our time of need, it would be likely that they would feel shame, incredulousness, or maybe fear.  Our master has caught us in our selfishness and accused us of betrayal.  But Jesus tells them that he is sharing this with them that they may have peace.  He says that peace is in Him.  

When we get scared or overwhelmed and we look back to Egypt and to our comfortable living room couch and we scatter and leave Jesus alone, we may find a temporary comfort but we do not find what we are longing for.  And we also find, amidst our comfort-seeking distractions, a voice of guilt and accusation.   This voice that says, “See! That adventure toward Jesus is really not for you.  You were wise to save yourself from that discomfort.”   But the truth is we’ve buried our head in our comforts but that does not make our troubles go away.  Jesus told the disciples to remember that, “in me you may have peace”, and he then tells them, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

We turn back to our comforts, we find that they do not fit us anymore and we find our adversaries ready to plague us.   Shortly, we find that we long for peace more than comfort and we race back into the arms of our Savior, the source of peace and life.  We are discovering our dependence on him.  We cannot make our world work or find what we need – but Jesus, and Jesus alone, has overcome the world.

In another place in the Gospel of John (6:67-69), many disciples of Jesus decide to leave him and Jesus asks the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” and Peter answers him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

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