Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks to the God of all Blessing

Al Mohler has written an excellent reflection on the topic of thanksgiving. He points out that "giving thanks is one of the most explicitly theological acts any human can contemplate." On Thanksgiving Day in America, who are we giving thanks to, if we don't acknowledge God as the foundation of human blessings?

We may be thankful to one another, but do our friends and family provide us life, health, jobs, food or houses to live in? If God is not behind the universe then who do we thank for such blessings? Ourselves? Luck? Fate?

In my family we have had a tradition in the past few years of writing on little slips of paper those things we are especially thankful for and sharing these with one another. It's a good thing to do and it convicts me of how thank-less I sometimes am for the everyday blessings that come to me through family. Often I take for granted these blessings that come through those close to me. But this year I hope that as I give thanks for all my blessings I'll remember the One behind them all-- for when I bless you or you bless me, we are only ministering back to God the blessing He's given to us.

My friend Rick wishes this Thanksgiving, for himself and others, a thankful heart, one that recognizes God's good and loving hand in all things. I agree-- it's hard, even for Christians, to be thankful for bad circumstances, trials and sufferings unless we really acknowledge God as being in control and working through all things (Romans 8:28).

Someday it will be revealed that our acts of kindness to one another were all done unto God, by His grace alone (Matthew 25:40, 1 Cor 8:6, John 3:21).

Psalm 65: 1-4 reads

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Change We Really Don't Need

I could try to write my own piece on why "ObamaCare" does not offer the short and long-term reform of health care this country really needs. But I'm certainly no expert on this very complex topic. Yet there is no shortage of experts who are analyzing the proposed health care reform package known as Obamacare and find its proposals to be bad for the pocketbook, bad for freedom, and ironically, bad for health care. For example, Jeffrey Flier, dean of Harvard Medical School, offers a compelling analysis of the current health care reform in a recent article, "Health 'Reform' Gets a Failing Grade".

Flier first summarizes the problems in the current system:

Our health-care system suffers from problems of cost, access and quality, and needs major reform. Tax policy drives employment-based insurance; this begets overinsurance and drives costs upward while creating inequities for the unemployed and self-employed. A regulatory morass limits innovation. And deep flaws in Medicare and Medicaid drive spending without optimizing care.

His article points out that the proposed "reform" is no reform at all. It seems the primary achievement anticipated from Obama's package is that millions more people will be added to a dysfunctional health care system. It will neither make health care better nor less costly, yet by over regulating, will stifle innovation. He explains:

In discussions with dozens of health-care leaders and economists, I find near unanimity of opinion that, whatever its shape, the final legislation that will emerge from Congress will markedly accelerate national health-care spending rather than restrain it. Likewise, nearly all agree that the legislation would do little or nothing to improve quality or change health-care's dysfunctional delivery system.

The system we have now promotes fragmented care and makes it more difficult than it should be to assess outcomes and patient satisfaction. The true costs of health care are disguised, competition based on price and quality are almost impossible, and patients lose their ability to be the ultimate judges of value.

Worse, currently proposed federal legislation would undermine any potential for real innovation in insurance and the provision of care. It would do so by overregulating the health-care system in the service of special interests such as insurance companies, hospitals, professional organizations and pharmaceutical companies, rather than the patients who should be our primary concern.

In effect, while the legislation would enhance access to insurance, the trade-off would be an accelerated crisis of health-care costs and perpetuation of the current dysfunctional system— now with many more participants. This will make an eventual solution even more difficult. Ultimately, our capacity to innovate and develop new therapies would suffer most of all.

Mr. Flier argues that many he has spoken are fully aware that although this health care package brings down the number of uninsured, the system will require drastic long-term reforms in the way health care is organized and funded. Indeed, he writes, he has "met many people for whom this strategy is conscious and explicit"-- in other words, they know the current package doesn't accomplish true reform of the health care system but are willing to vote for it as a means of beginning the process of reform. Flier concludes that the American public should be made explicitly aware of this strategy, saying, "We should not be making public policy in such a crucial area by keeping the electorate ignorant of the actual road ahead."

Michael D. Tanner of the Cato Institute has also critically analyzed the current health care reform package in brief but informative articles such as "Obamacare to Come: Seven Bad Ideas for Health Care Reform", "Halfway to Where? Answering the Key Questions of Health Care Reform" and "The Grass Is Not Always Greener: A Look at National Health Care Systems Around the World".

Among Tanner's conclusions:
  • Contrary to the Obama administration's repeated assurances, millions of Americans who are happy with their current health insurance will not be able to keep it. As many as 89.5 million people may be dumped into a government-run plan.
  • Some Americans may find themselves forced into a new insurance plan that no longer includes their current doctor.
  • At a time of rising unemployment, the government would raise the cost of hiring workers by requiring employers to provide health insurance to their workers or pay a fee (tax) to subsidize government coverage.
  • Every American would be required to buy an insurance policy that meets certain government requirements. Even individuals who are currently insured — and happy with their insurance — will have to switch to insurance that meets the government's definition of "acceptable insurance."
  • Americans will pay more than $820 billion in additional taxes over the next 10 years, and could see their insurance premiums rise as much as 95 percent.
  • The current health care bills will increase the budget deficit by at least $239 billion over the next 10 years, and far more in the years beyond that. If the new health care entitlement were subject to the same 75-year actuarial standards as Social Security or Medicare, its unfunded liabilities would exceed $9.2 trillion.
  • While the bills contain no direct provisions for rationing care, they nonetheless increase the likelihood of government rationing and interference with how doctors practice medicine.
  • Contrary to assertions of some opponents, the bills contain no provision for euthanasia or mandatory end-of-life counseling. The bills' provisions on abortion coverage are far murkier.
Looking at countries with nationalized health care systems, Tanner points out that theses systems have serious problems and should not be the model for America. Though per capita expenditures for health care may be less, the following troubling facts are also true:

  • Health insurance does not mean universal access to health care. In practice, many countries promise universal coverage but ration care or have long waiting lists for treatment.
  • Rising health care costs are not a uniquely American phenomenon. Although other countries spend considerably less than the United States on health care, both as a percentage of GDP and per capita, costs are rising almost everywhere, leading to budget deficits, tax increases, and benefit reductions.
  • In countries weighted heavily toward government control, people are most likely to face waiting lists, rationing, restrictions on physician choice, and other obstacles to care.
  • Countries with more effective national health care systems are successful to the degree that they incorporate market mechanisms such as competition, cost sharing, market prices, and consumer choice, and eschew centralized government control.
Tanners also finds that in these countries "the broad and growing trend is to move away from centralized government control and to introduce more market-oriented features."

Conservative commentator Chuck Norris (yes, that Chuck Norris) also has contributed a helpful article, "6 Reasons Obama-Care Is Bad Medicine. "

Norris shows that unnecessarily rushed policy-making, hugely increased deficits, greater burden on the American taxpayer, creation of more inefficient, expensive Federal bureaucracy, stifling of competition and innovation are all solid reasons to reject Obamacare. Unfortunately with a Democratic majority in Congress and the mad rush to pass this legislation, Americans may very well end up with a "reformed" system that brings us further along the road to socialism and at the same time does little to improve the quality or expense of health care.

Get educated and make your voice heard-- tell your Senator you don't want ObamaCare! Join with the many organizations fighting on behalf of the unborn who are therefore also fighting hard to keep Congress from passing versions of this legislation that include hugely expanded abortion coverage at taxpayer expense.

Further resources
Americans United for Life
Ideas for Free-Market Health Reform
Susan B. Anthony List
10 Reasons ObamaCare Is Bad for Your Health and Your Pocketbook
Defend Your Health Care

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Blips on the Blogosphere 22

One writer and theologian I have turned to consistently for his reliable counsel concerning biblical spirituality is Pastor Bob DeWaay. Pastor DeWaay has been alerting readers for some time now about American evangelicalism's love affair with New Age spirituality, and how Eastern spirituality has been making inroads into the American church because of the church's biblical illiteracy, its lackadaisical attitude towards doctrine and its drifting away from the principles the great Reformers fought so hard to make known.

One article that caught my attention and I have re-read several times was especially interesting in the DeWaay strongly, but in a non-combative tone, confronts what he views as serious errors in the teachings on biblical spirituality of well-known writer and Reformed professor Don Whitney. Being familiar with Mr. Whitney's writings and his status in the reformed community, I was at first surprised to see such a critique.

But having read Pastor DeWaay's strong arguments, I am persuaded that he makes a solid case for his position that only spiritual practices God has expressly ordained in His word (the "means of grace", such as prayer, the Word and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper), are to be enjoined. DeWaay writes,
Since Scripture alone reveals how we come to God and grow in God, then Scripture alone must reveal sanctifying practices... so Whitney is out of bounds to tell us we must do certain things that are not in the Bible if we want to achieve godliness on no other grounds than he said so.

Writing with evident passion Mr. DeWaay begins the article by stressing that he does think Dr. Whitney gets the gospel right. However, he thinks that Whitney is getting into serious error by enjoining God's people to spiritual practices not specifically commanded in Scripture. Thus Whitney's teaching on spiritual practices becomes akin to erroneous Roman Catholic teaching about grace coming by works, rather than the Reformed principle that says the grace God gives is what enables His people to do works. This is very alarming, says DeWaay, as "Scripture alone and grace alone are compromised— if not rejected outright— when spiritual disciplines are adopted."

I think DeWaay's warning to the Church is very timely and needs to be heeded. I highly recommend the article, which is titled, "Donald Whitney and Spiritual Disciplines--Spirituality Without Boundaries."

Other articles along these lines that DeWaay has written include his latest commentary, "Oprah Winfrey Promotes Pantheist Eckhart Tolle- How Biblically Illiterate America is Being Deceived" and also "Contemporary Christian Divination- The False Claims and Practices of Christian Mystics".


Recently, "An Evening of Eschatology" discussion moderated by John Piper took place at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. Billed as "The Meaning of the Millennium", the event was a discussion of various millennial views among John Piper, pastor of Bethel Baptist Church and popular author), Jim Hamilton (professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in Louisville), Sam Storms (pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City), and Doug Wilson (pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho).

The various views discussed were:

Premillennialism (represented by Jim Hamilton-- and shared by Piper): The return of Christ happens before (pre-) the thousand-year reign of Christ, which is a reign of the risen Christ on the earth.

Amillennialism (represented by Sam Storms): The return of Christ happens after the thousand-year reign, a reign that occurs in heaven, in the intermediate state, and not upon the earth. Those who have died in faith and entered into the presence of Christ share his rule and reign during the current church age in which we now live.

Postmillennialism (represented by Doug Wilson): The return of Christ happens after (post-) the thousand-year reign, which corresponds to the Christian age, and the reign of Christ from heaven leads the church to triumph by and through the gospel to such an extent that the Great Commission will be successfully fulfilled, and the Christian faith will pervade all the cultures of all the nations of men. All Christ's enemies will be subdued in this way, with the exception of death, which he will destroy by his coming.

At the Desiring God website, one can listen, watch or download the discussion for free.