Hope in Faith

I am reading a wonderful book by John Piper called Future Grace. The premise of the book is that all the power of Christianity comes when we live in faith that God will provide us His grace int the future. Even when we can see countless examples of His goodness to us in the past, they basically serve as a confidence builder for us to have faith in His future provision.

While thinking through some of these ideas I was drawn to the past election. Millions of people put their faith in hope (or should I say hope and change). It was hope undefined and because of that in many ways unlimited. People superimposed their hopes into the generic master hope that the President preached. Of course he himself did not ask them to do that but by using a sufficiently generic term like “hope”, he could co-opt whatever hopes millions of individuals had. This is why we have so many accounts of generally uneducated people saying things like Obama is going to take care of their mortgage or give them money or fix whatever problem they have even when the President has no actual ability to do these things. This is a good example that faith always has an object, and in this case the object of these people’s faith was hope for their problems to be solved by someone who’s never met them and could not pick them out of a lineup.

Christians should be different. Realizing that faith always has an object, our faith should be in God alone. That God has graciously given us multiple perspectives of Himself through history, His word and His Son should make our faith in Him that much more substantive. Rather than put our faith in generic, undefined hope, we should put our hope in our faith in a glorious, loving and sovereign God. Paul said “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live BY FAITH in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20). Faith is enabler for all our future decisions, actions and growth BECAUSE of who we have faith in.

Because our faith is rooted in a specific someone who is able to do immeasurably more than anything we can ask or imagine, we can hope in faith. It is the total opposite of those who put their faith in hope without focus or specifics.

TSA Healthcare

I think it’s instructional when considering the government intervention on our health care system to consider how well they’ve done in other interventions. It would be especially interesting to just look at how the federal government has done in managing AIG or General Motors/Chrysler but I’ll leave that for another day because I can’t get one example out of my mind.
Many of you know I fly a lot. I won’t make it this year because of the economic downturn, but I’ve been a Platinum flyer on Continental when I lived in Cleveland and Delta now that I’m in Atlanta for most of the last 10 years. As such, I’ve had the chance to appreciate airport security both before and after the switch to government airport security following 9/11. I’m not impressed.

Prior to the government takeover of airport screening companies competed on merit to do the job. The argument that airports just bid it out to the lowest bidder says more about how silly government procurement rules are than the actual screening system. Companies knew they were pulling from basically the same labor force so the value they tried to add was with management teams that were expert or offered better service. For example, one firm hired a gentleman named Hovan Franko, an Israeli who was an expert in identifying non-verbal clues that someone could be up to no good. He trained not only his screeners, but airline counter people and others in the airport. It was a great and innovative service promoted by the free market.

Fast forward to today. While the government said the Transportation Security Administration was necessary to ensure consistent screening practices across the country and raise the quality of screening generally that simply hasn’t happened. I’ve lost count of how many airports I have traveled through since the TSA took over (well over 30) and I can attest to the fact that there is no consistency across them. Even when they eventually adopt the same rule, it might happen months apart. (For the record, the TSA people in Salt Lake City are by far the worst I have ever dealt with.) Most airports say nothing about a hair cream I have in my travel bag but never use. San Francisco told me it had to be inside my 1 quart plastic bag. The screeners at Canton/Akron actually argued with me that it was a liquid or gel and I had to explain third grade science to them. I’ve gone through security with a belt on several hundred times but this morning the machine went off and I had to remove it (same exact belt I went through security with three times in the last three weeks). Some make you remove a sweatshirt and others done. Some take 30 seconds to scrutinize your ID and boarding pass (as if they really knew what they were looking at) and some don’t care. To this date, none has told me the 1 once size Purell I have in my computer bag would have to go in my 1 quart plastic bag.

Some say, sure they’re inconsistent but the quality of screening has gone up. Well they would be wrong as well. Just about every audit of TSA performance done shows they perform at the same level and in some cases worse than the private security people did. Nobody should be surprised since in many cases it’s the same exact people doing the job. How about their management? Are there any Hovan Franko’s at the TSA? Not really. The best example is the whole 1 quart plastic bag fiasco. They implemented the rule five years after taking over because the threat of liquid explosives was so great. Think about this for a minute. Liquid explosives have been around for more than a century and they’re just now seeing that it’s a threat? Either they let us fly in great peril for five years or the whole thing is made up to boost their control over us.

Why is this a good case study for healthcare? There are a lot of reasons but I will outline a few.

1) They will be slow to react to new trends. Just like it took them five years to determine that a decades old threat was applicable to airport security, the government run health system will be slow to respond to health trends. They have no motive to do anything proactively.
2) People will generally sink to the level the lowest performers around them. Government employment generally is not where high performers go. There are lots of great reasons to work for the government and great government workers, but really ambitious people don’t go there. As the good people see weak performers linger on without any consequence they will get weaker just as has happened at the TSA.
3) The power will go to their heads. Ask anyone who travels today whether TSA people have let the power go to their heads. Their arrogance is amazing and the notion of customer service is completely absent from most of them. This will show up in call hold times, bureaucratic responses and stonewalling on answers. (of course I could use just about any government agency to make this point, not just the TSA).
4) They will lower standards to hire people willing to do the job. Remember the “high” standards originally proposed to be a part of the critical TSA? They wanted people to be citizens with a high school diploma. While both were used as criticisms of the privately run screening system, both requirements were eventually dropped for the TSA.
5) Rather than see costs come down, costs will go up as the inability to use private resources creatively forces more staff to be hired to meet gaps in coverage and skills.

I could go on but I won’t. Just think about every government office you’ve ever visited. Are the people who work there self starters? Are they driven by customer service? Are they quality minded? I’m not asking are there some people there who are these things but would you describe the whole office that way? I cannot think of a single place where I would.

Not in My Home

We have a great home built by a great builder and serviced by a great project manager. His name is Kevin Young. One of the things I love about Kevin is how attentive he always is when he enters our house. Anytime there is even a remote chance there is dirt or mud on his feet he takes his boots off before entering the house. He is concerned that our house is clean and the presence of dirt on his shoes will spoil it. I think most people would expect someone with mud on their boots to take steps to ensure they didn’t track it into their clean house and ruin their clean carpet.

I’m amazed that while most people would see this as an act of both consideration and in some ways reverence, many do not apply the same standard to heaven. We know we want our clean house to stay clean, but somehow we don’t recognize that God wants to keep his perfectly holy heaven that way. People think they can track their sin right into heaven anytime they want and God will be okay with it. He’s not going to do that. The Bible says God is only light and in Him is no darkness at all. He will not tolerate that being spoiled.

Some people might say that their sin isn’t so bad and God will be okay with it. I can’t imagine why He would be. If a contractor came into your house and got your carpet just a little bit stained would you be okay with it? What if he just put a little smudge on your new wall? How would you feel about the whole reason he was careless was because he took for granted that you’d be okay with it?

That is exactly what many people do with heaven. They think that somehow because the Bible says God is Love that He will overlook every other characteristic he has like His justice and His holiness. He’s not going to do that. In fact, in His love he’s provided a way for us to have the dirtiest shoes you can imagine and still enter heaven.

Jesus’ blood is like those little blue cloth footies doctors wear. It doesn’t matter how dirty their shoes are because they are covered by the footies. Our sin doesn’t stain heaven not because it isn’t there, but because it is covered. The footies are one size fits all so they cover bid sins and little sins, public sins and private sins.

There’s one thing that’s required for these footies to work. Someone has to put them on. If you want the Jesus footies so God will let you into heaven you the first thing you must do is see the need for footies. If you don’t put the footies on you will not cover your sin and you will not get into heaven. The Bible says “all we like sheep have gone astray, each of us to his own way, and God has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” The question is not whether you need the footies, only whether you will put them on. Jesus said that all who come to me I will never cast out. You never have to worry about Him running out of footies. They are available for anyone who confesses that they are a sinner and do not deserve heaven.

God will not let you spoil His home anymore than you would let a contractor spoil yours. Repent of your sin, turn to Jesus, put the footies on and come inside.

All’s Fair in Love and Luggage

So this post might be a combination post and rant but I’m going to do it anyway.

I’m on a flight from Atlanta to Newark this week (I’ve been a platinum flier for many years) and while everyone is boarding I see someone acting very rudely about his bags and hear the words “all’s fair in love and luggage.” Besides the fact that the phrase doesn’t mean anything because it ignores the dramatic tension between the original “love” and “war”, it’s obviously a statement regarding the selfishness of people. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of many places where the deceitfulness of men is so much on display as when trying to load bags into overhead compartments. Here are some of the things about getting on an airplane that show off people’s selfishness:

1) Of course I have to lead with taking up more room in the overhead than you should. The most flagrant offenders are people who put both bags in the overhead compartments so they can have more legroom. If you have done this, here’s a news flash… When the nice lady in the uniform holding the microphone says “If you brought two bags onboard today please place one in the overhead and one under the seat in front of you” she was talking to you. Unless your boarding pass has the sign “luggage hog waiver” stamped in bright pink, you should actually listen to the lady as she’s trying to be fair to everyone and get us out of the gate on time so we don’t miss our wheels up window.

2) I’m pretty sure on most of my flights the nice lady says something like “once you find your row, please step into the row and allow those behind you to pass.” There is a very special reason she says this. She wants you to step into the row and allow those behind you to pass. While this may not be important to you, it is important to those behind you trying to get to their rows before everyone else so they can put two bags in the overhead compartment. Please obey the flight attendant.

3) I’m pretty sure when the airlines bought something like 20,000,000 boxes the size of approved carry on luggage that the intent was that people would use them as a reference to see whether their luggage is too large to carry on an airplane. For some reason which defies explanation, airlines do not regularly enforce this policy even though their lack of enforcement punishes those people who follow their rules and rewards people who ignore their rules. In consulting we call this counterproductive. If the same principles were applied to parenting all kids would be Charles Manson. All that is happening is people are bringing more and bigger carry on luggage and flight crews, having been told that being spineless is a good thing for so long, are powerless to stop it. The airlines insistence of imposing baggage fees of course makes this horrible trend much worse. Both the airlines and the passengers should realize that what they are doing is putting themselves above those passengers who follow the rules which is incredibly selfish.

4) This has nothing to do with luggage but have you ever noticed that fees never go away? The luggage fees were supposed to be a reaction to $140/barrel oil. Oil is around $70/barrel and the fees have not gone away. Same thing with cruises. $10/person/day for an oil surcharge to pay for oil at a price they had to pay before they imposed the fees. Toll roads are another example. I read that the city of Newark used these fees from licensing at the Newark airport to pay for the beautiful new Prudential Center. At least I can take solace that the airlines who mistreat us so much and don’t stand up to luggage violators paid $200 million toward my chance to see the Nets lose to the Celtics this week. This was in a game where the Nets were up 13 at the half and the Celtics didn’t play Kevin Garnett, Paul Peirce or Ray Allen.

5) How about the people who don’t take their bags off their shoulders and clobber every single person in an aisle seat in the head as they board? You’d think that if they were paying even a little bit of attention they’d realize they were doing that by row 15. Maybe they’re just equal opportunity offenders. In any case, please stop hitting me in the head with your bag. I’m kind of thin so I never had a problem with this until the airlines started charging people for checked baggage meaning the flying rookies are now carrying their oversized bags on board because people like Delta don’t care to enforce their own rules.

I could go on but there isn’t really much point. Above all else my reaction to all this selfishness is the contrast it is with God. Here’s what Romans 8:32 says…

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

So let’s draw a comparison from the the self lovers with oversized bags and God. If God were boarding the airplane he would not do any of these things. He would not have any baggage at all – because He was willing to give up what he was entitled to for the good of those He loved. He would be running up and down the aisles looking for space and putting people’s bags there for them. If someone broke the rules and had oversized bags He would not ignore it. Rather, He would use the law to show people they broke it then hire a charter plane at His expense to send the bags to their destination before they could even arrive. Rather than stand in the aisle and block those trying to get past, He would handle the bags of every person who was rudely blocking the way so they could sit down and do whatever it took to serve those people while letting the others through.

I know these are poor comparisons and God does not need to fly commercial but here’s my point. How often have I compared myself to the rude travelers and glory in my own righteous behavior on airplanes, yet I have not come close to the standard that God has set for me. Paul said in Galatians 5:2 that we are to be imitators of God and I have not done that when I’ve traveled. I have not been merciful to rude travelers or helped people find a spot for their obviously oversized bag or thought about ways I could encourage the flight attendant who is frustrated because nobody listens to her and she feels powerless and ignored.

How far I have fallen from His glory and how totally undeserving I am of His grace? Yet He continues to bless me with every spiritual blessing and answer my prayers beyond anything I could ask or even imagine. He has given me His Son and the forgiveness for my self righteousness and so many more sins. He has promised to give me all things I need pertaining to live and godliness. My job is to make known among the nations what He has done and that includes rude people on airplanes.

Winning in Regulation

So one of the most perplexing things I’ve been wondering about the Democrat led health care reform has been the absolute refusal to consider how screwed up it is that state regulators impact the health insurance marketplace so much. I do understand the thought behind regulation in general, but in most cases these state insurance regulators do far more harm than good. In most cases, they use their regulatory power to push social agendas rather than ensure the proper functioning of the insurance markets.

One good example of that is something called “community rating”. This is an incredibly stupid idea that essentially forces insurance companies to charge roughly the same premium to people regardless of how risky they are. The equivalent in auto insurance would be to force you to pay the same amount for car insurance as someone with 10 DUIs. Of course insurers don’t have to offer insurance to anyone, but if they do, they must offer it within the same basic rate structure. This is almost certainly what will happen with the health insurance marketplaces. These rules are dumb for a lot of reasons – they deny the ability to underwrite the actual risk which not only means insurers cannot be as precise as they would like but it means there is NO INCENTIVE to be healthy and be a good risk.

A good parallel to this is the property insurance market Florida. Remember that all insurance does is provide a financial tool to spread the risk of losses across a broader group of people so no one person gets burned. Florida decided to over-regulate the pricing of the risky property insurance market has artificially suppressed the pricing of property insurance. State Farm made many attempts to charge what it actually costs to insure property in Florida and was prohibited by the regulator from doing so. What was its response? It took it’s ball and went home. Consumers in Florida now have less choice as a result of state insurance regulator’s trying to make the market do what it’s not supposed to do. Of course it’s even worse than that for Florida taxpayers because the state actually owns an insurance company that was initially supposed to be the insurer of last resort but now will end up taking on insurance needs from everyday home and business owners because of the dwindling insurance capacity from private companies. There just isn’t enough money to go around and insure everyone from the enormous risk that Florida property insurance is. That means the Floridian taxpayer will end up holding the bag for people continuing to build houses in areas prone to hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and other disasters.

Many argue that it’s the evil profiteers who make these decisions. State Farm decides that it can’t “make money” so it pulls out and leaves the poor people of Florida to fend for themselves. Well surprise, State Farm is actually a mutual insurance company. That means the insurance customers actually OWN the insurance company. If they take in too much premium, they are required to return it to the insurance customers. I had it happen many times when I was a State Farm customer. The company didn’t pull out because it couldn’t make money, it pulled out because there was a statistical certainty that it would LOSE money.

There is a well written article on this situation here: http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/banking/article970945.ece

So since there are both high health insurance risks and low health insurance risks it is silly to charge them both the same premium. There are only two outcomes that have ever happened. One, we charge them basically what it costs for a low risk person and the insurance fund loses its shirt. Two, we charge them more or less what is required to cover the high risk person and then the low risk people don’t buy it. Neither of these totally foreseeable results is desirable but one or the other happens in every state where parochial insurance commissioners try to use their government afforded power to change society to their liking.

There are other state insurance laws that punish insurance companies. Some others include mandated health benefits, which require insur­ers to cover particular treatments or particular ser­vices, “any willing provider” laws, which restrict insurers’ ability to exclude hospitals and doctors from their networks and guaranteed issue laws, which require insurers to sell insurance to all potential customers regardless of health or pre-existing conditions. Perhaps more on these later.

Someone once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Let’s pray that Congress actually learns from the mistakes of state insurance regulation to inform the current health insurance reform debate.

Dying to self

This past weekend I had a chance for a little glimpse into what my wife must deal with on a much more regular basis. Elyse Fitzpatrick was holding a conference about 100 miles away from our home and my wife took our two older daughters there for the weekend to participate and visit the church that was hosting it. BTW – if you are not familiar with Elyse I highly recommend her work, even for men to read. Her perspective captured in her books “Because He Loves Me” and “Idols of the Heart” transformed my wife and our marriage which may be a topic of another blog post if she gives me permission to write about it.

Here’s what I had to work with. From about 2pm Friday until 3pm Sunday I had to watch two kids ages 5 and 6, take care of two daschounds, host a family from church who is temporarily moving out of their house to find work, prepare for a men’s breakfast at our home on Saturday morning and keep the house clean for our normal small group meeting on Sunday evening. It’s easy to say this was an unusually high amount of activity but frankly I think my wife deals with about as much at the close of every week when you consider her home schooling commitments and other ministry obligations.

How did it go? Well, initially not so great. As soon as she left I started trying to coordinate my approach to things as if it were a project from work which didn’t help. The problem with little kids and dogs and people in general is that they don’t fit into a project plan all that well. After muddling around for a while I came to a conclusion. All this was possible if I simply died to myself and my desires and gave myself fully to serving her out of the overflow of the love the Lord has shown to me.

What would that mean? Well, in practical terms I did not get to have nearly the liesure time I would have liked to have. I did not get to read a book I hoped to read in advance of our small group time. I did not get to eat the food I would have preferred because catering to the little ones was more important and somehow they like McDonalds more than Smokey Bones (I know it’s crazy but it’s true). I spent $20.50 to see a 90 minute movie (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) which I enjoyed more than I thought but is not the one I would have picked to see alone. I ate the same leftover pasta dish three times because the little ones liked her taco soup so much they didn’t want to share (I chose grace to them over exerting my rights). I didn’t get to sleep in on Sunday like I usually do when Kristen is around because she wasn’t there to get the kids up, fed, cleaned and dressed for church. I didn’t get to stand around church talking to people all the time becuase she wasn’t there supervise the little ones, get them to their classes, get them from their classes, etc.

Basically, I saw how selfish I am usually and how much having the best wife in the world lets me continue in my selfishness.

What did it take for me to make all this happen? First of all and most importantly it took a total and complete acknowledgement that there was no way I could do it. Jesus said “Apart from me you can do nothing”. He didn’t say apart from Him we couldn’t do most things – He said “nothing”. The reality is this past weekend gave me a chance to see how little I was really doing that any carnal non-Christian wouldn’t have also been doing. The non-Christian would have been the one sleeping in and letting his wife care for their kids, talking to his friends while his wife supervised the little ones at church, enjoyed being the pack leader of the dogs while his kids fed them and picked up their poop, ignored things that could be done on Saturday to prepare for the small group meeting on Sunday (using lesson preparation on Sunday as a convenient excuse to not be more organized so he could be helpful).

Paul said in Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. What I have been doing, at least in these areas where I have let my love of self dominate my desire to serve, is refuse give let Christ live in me.

I am very grateful for the chance to have this spotlight on my sin of selfishness in such a glaring way so even in my think-headedness I cannot possibly miss it and will be asking Kristen to forgive me for the many years I have let my selfish heart take advantage of her lovingkindness to me.