Relational Benevolence

Several months ago I received an email from a friend in Nashville, Tennessee. Ginny is a dedicated believer, a mother of a 14-year old boy, and was recently widowed when her husband of 20 years died in a tragic car accident. She wrote:

“I was writing to see if you have any suggestions. My son is struggling not having a father and just needs some fatherly guidance from a Christian man. I have spoken with the elders at my church and all they do is point me to programs. ‘Check into the Big Brother Program’ they say or, ‘Maybe they have a program at his school’. Those are all fine things. But what he really needs is just a real relationship! Not another program! Nobody wants to get involved!”

Though the Church struggles with financial deficits during this time of recession, the far greater and more threatening deficit is the scarcity of relationships. If a Christian sister…who is a widow…earnestly searching for a Godly mentor for her son…in the middle of the Bible belt…can’t find a man who will step up and take a young, fatherless boy fishing once a month…how will even a non-believer see the transformative power of Christ manifested in his people?

We are commanded time after time to do good to those around us. But in addition to being good, we are given numerous examples of how we are to do that “good” in relationship with others. We are to practice, “Relational Benevolence”.

Bryant Myers, a Christian development thinker, notes that the God-head is a relational arrangement. Since we are made in God’s image, we humans are relational as well. Myers believes that in the beginning, God set-up four foundational relationships for each human: A relationship with God, a relationship with themselves, a relationship with others, and a relationship with the rest of creation.

Each day, we encounter people who have strained or broken relationships – some may be with God, some may be with others, or some may be with their physical health. An important fact to remember is that we are included in the previous statement. We are broken people in need of a Savior.

But aside from that, let’s talk about these four relationships briefly.

First, Our relationship with God is the primary foundational relationship. We cannot have a healthy relationship with God if our relationships with our self, our neighbors, or the rest of creation are out of balance.

Second, Our relationship with self is the idea of how we view ourselves. This relationship is closely linked with our relationship with God because we are told we are made in the image of God. A fractured relationship with self may manifest itself as depression, pride, or egocentric behavior.

Third, Our relationship with others is one of the more obvious relationships we encounter each day. When we are able to view our neighbors as creatures dearly loved by our Father, everybody looks a little different.

And finally, or relationship with the rest of creation catches everything that wasn’t mentioned previously.

So why do we stray from diving into relationships like these? Well, relationships are messy. If you form relationships long enough, you will get hurt. You will get disrespected. You will get taken advantage of and you will be fatigued beyond comprehension.

A friend of mine works with a large mega church in Cincinnati. Each year they organize a huge Thanksgiving meal for those in need of food. The ministry ends up serving 10,000+ people and it continues to grow every year. I asked her, “How in the world do you get that many volunteers to help with this?” She replied: “You know, volunteers flood in by the hundreds to serve the meal, cook the food, donate supplies, and clean up the trash. The church members definitely enjoy the feeling of serving and ministry in this way. But each year, the one role that we have trouble filling is the role of the person who sits and eats the meal with our guests! You wouldn’t think we would struggle to have someone come in, sit down, and eat a delicious thanksgiving meal! But this role involves relationships that are sometimes uncomfortable. It may involve sitting next to someone who hasn’t bathed in a month or whose conversation is distorted by severe mental illness.” Relationships are much more challenging than superficial service from afar.

Last week was the 50th anniversary of Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of the, “War on Poverty.” But 50 years later and trillions of dollars spent in this battle, we ask our selves if that money has really done all that good. Again in the book, “When Helping Hurts”, the authors describe what has been called, “The Great Reversal”. Fikkert argues that the “Social Gospel Movement” from 1900 to the early 1930s caused some evangelical Christians to begin to get concerned that pure evangelism and preaching of the Gospel was being neglected.  He says that, “As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. He goes on to say that, “the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not–as many have asserted–to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor.” Following this exodus of the church, the government filled the void left by the church in the 1930s with FDR’s “New Deal” and then in the 1960s with LBJ’s “Great Society”.

Now don’t get me wrong, I feel the government plays a role in poverty alleviation. In fact, Paul says in Romans 13:4 that the government or those in authority are “God’s servant to do you good”. Jennifer Marshal in her article entitled, “It’s Not Enough to Care About ‘The Poor””, says this: “Government protects what family, church, business, and other communities cultivate. Government welfare programs may be able to provide temporary material assistance for those who have nowhere else to turn; but they also hurt when the helping hand creates dependence.” One of the abilities that the government lacks, is the ability to provide relational benevolence-this is-or should be-the skill set of the church. Unfortunately, the church has been slow to re-fill this void and as a result, the church is grossly underrepresented in our social services, which also explains the limited effectiveness of our nation’s social welfare programs. In a sense, the discussion is not as much about the need for a weaker government, but instead, the need for stronger churches.

There are numerous negative spiritual ramifications when there are deficits of relationships in our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in our churches. Let’s talk about some of these problems for a few minutes.

First, when there is an absence of relationship, we misdiagnose. In order to effectively treat a medical malady, any good clinician knows that a proper diagnosis needs to be made. In December, 1980, Episode 199 of M*A*S*H aired a story about the unit throwing a party for the local orphanage. Winchester had sent a great deal of expensive chocolates to the orphanage and at one point discovers that the children did not ever get the treats.

Winchester confronts their director, Mr. Ho and he admits that he sold all the chocolate. Winchester is enraged, calling him a “parasite”, but Mr. Ho explains that the chocolate was so valuable that, on the Black Market, it could buy enough rice and cabbage to feed the kids for a month. Winchester, stunned, apologizes, realizing, as he says, “It’s improper to give dessert to a child who’s had no meal.”

Though well-intentioned, Winchester failed to delve into the relationship and discover what were the actual felt needs of the orphanage. In his arrogance, he felt he knew the needs…but the result was a misdiagnosis. When we practice relational benevolence, appropriate treatment is paired with the actual malady.

Second, when there is an absence of relationship, we burnout. Jesus knew this feeling far better than anyone. He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11). But thankfully, the verse did not end there. He went on, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” He said, “Rejoice”! Galatians 6:9 also says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And then finally, Scripture says, “…if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (Isaiah 58:10-11). When we practice relational benevolence and truly get to know the people we are serving, and when we are in close relationship and communication with our Lord, he promises us that we will be renewed.

And Third, when there is an absence of relationship, we underachieve. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African proverb. Big changes can always be linked back to significant relationships. In an article entitled, “Invincible Kids”, the author said, “Locate a resilient kid and you will also find a caring adult-or several-who has guided him.” When we form relationships, lasting, transformative change happens.

We’ve talked a great deal about what happens when we try to do good in the absence of relationship. But what are some practical ways we can practice relational benevolence?

First, work to like the people you love. Tyanna came to our weekly community meal one week. 29 years old, homeless and 9 months pregnant, she had reached the end of her rope. That night, we did not give her the money she was requesting. Though that was her request, it was not her need. My wife Melissa and I took her home and invited her to stay with us overnight and we promised to help her find a shelter in the morning. All the shelters were full and the ones that had open beds would not take her in because they considered her, “high-risk” being pregnant and did not want to take on the liability. A night turned into days and days turned into weeks. Melissa went to the hospital when the time came and comforted Tyanna while she was in labor. Due to a number of unfortunate circumstances, child protective services took her child and she has struggled immensely. There is no doubt Tyanna wants to straighten her life out and she came to Melissa one day saying that she wanted to become a Christian. Together, Melissa and I baptized her into Christ and she is now a new creation. It’s been a challenging road we have had with Tyanna. In fact, Tyanna was homeless again even last week and was again living with us just a few days ago. As you can imagine, Tyanna’s presence in our home adds a great deal of stress. There was never a doubt in my mind that we loved Tyanna. God commands us to truly love our neighbor and love the poor and love our enemies. That’s pretty hard in itself at times. But what I have found is even harder is learning to like the people we serve…and I can’t say I always liked her. She has about a 6th grade level of education and it’s reflected in her decision making capabilities. She has gotten in serious fights, lost her children, smokes a lot, and smells up my house with her body odor and smoke soaked clothes. She eats us out of house and home and she dumps enormous amounts of salt, ketchup, and ranch dressing on every bit of food we serve her. She destroyed our vacuum cleaner when she vacummed out her ash tray and slips up with her profanity around our kids from time to time. Without this relationship however, my frustration and arrogant indignance for her would have ended there. I would have served her or given her some money to get her out of our hair and I would have “loved her” as I am commanded. Job done. Check. Check. But because we have strived to practice relational benevolence, we not only love her. We like her. We like her because we now know that she has lived in and out of foster homes all of her life. She doesn’t know her dad and her mom is a crack addict. She has some developmental delays and she is in an abusive relationship. She desperately longs for love and belonging . Her story is heartbreaking and her hurt is palpable. None of this history justifies her behavior, but it certainly helps us to understand her, love her, and yes, even like her.

Second, consider relational benevolence a privilege. What if we changed our mindset: “The poor, the outcast, the widowed…they are not merely our ministry, but by encountering them, we are truly encountering the presence of God?” My times in which I was working with an overly white, homogenous, wealthy, Bible-belt church have been my least spiritually stimulating times. The times where I have been most spiritually stimulated are the times when I am hanging out in a rice mill, grinding rice in the bush of Tanzania, or talking with a drunk man, sobbing outside my work in the inner-city about his prostitute friend just getting gang-raped, or praying with a dying patient who had no family in the middle of an Arkansas ICU. Relationships are challenging-but they are deeply rewarding.

And finally, humility, humility, humility. Let’s turn to Luke, chapter 18:9-14. To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Humility and repentance removes the callouses from our hearts and makes us vulnerable to relationships. Until those callouses have been removed, truly meaningful relationships cannot be formed. Unfortunately, repentance and humility are not one-time occurrences. They are disciplines and postures that we must renew daily.

I challenge you to dive deeper into relationships around you. Find the widowed, the fatherless, the hungry, the lonely, and draw near to them. That may look different for each of you – for some, it may mean that you will sell your possessions and move to Africa. For others, it may mean walking across the street to meet the neighbor who lives alone. And still others, your first step may be a prayer on your knees tonight, asking the Lord to remove the callouses from your heart, bring humility to your life, and a desire to practice relational benevolence as he calls us to do with our lives. May God bless you in your journey-as you get your hands dirty, and see what beautiful things he grows.

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Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer

Photo courtesy of the Cincinnati Enquirer

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law on March 23, 2010 by President Barack Obama. There are few laws enacted by our legislature in the history of the United States that have been fraught with more division among Christians than the ACA or “ObamaCare”. Far too often, discussions about this topic are filled with partisan talking points, strong emotions, cliché arguments, and misinformation on all sides.

But we as Christians are to look at the world differently. Jesus does not call us to look at the world through Republican, Democrat, or Tea Party “glasses”. Rather, we are heirs of a King (Titus 3:7) whose Kingdom is “not of this world” (John 17:14, 18:36). Philippians 3:20 says, “our citizenship is in heaven” and that citizenship is not in an earthly nation or government. When we remove our partisan, earthly glasses and struggle to look at the world through the eyes of our Savior, the view is dramatically different from any other pair of political “spectacles”.

A few weeks ago I emailed a group of Christians whose political and social perspectives ranged from one extreme to another. But they all had in common a deep love for God and for his people. I asked them to list for me their key spiritual, “Kingdom” concerns about the Affordable Care Act. They sent me a number of thoughts and as I sifted through their fears, I realized that many of their anxieties were based on misinformation, false rumors, or just the unknown. And so, I researched many of their suggestions and compiled what I hope my readers find is helpful and unbiased information from a Christian’s worldview. I plan to make this a “working document” that I will update with the latest information as it becomes more available. I welcome your thoughtful, spirit-filled comments and suggestions for other discussion points.

Employer Mandate:

“Employers are forced to provide insurance that reimburses for abortions” or “I am afraid my money is going to fund abortions”

DISCUSSION: This is an ever-changing mandate that has been challenged many times in the last few years. At present, the Affordable Care Act does mandate employers with 50 or more employees to provide health insurance to their employees. This insurance must provide certain essential services, including the mandate to cover contraceptive services. According to HHS, these services include drugs like “Plan B” or the “Morning-After Pill” which many view as an abortive medication. However, many have filed lawsuits to fight this mandate.

Certain religious organizations (like churches and other organizations whose purpose is primarily religious) are exempt from the contraception mandate).5

In July, 2013, the White House announced it would delay the employer mandate until January 2015. 4

On November 1, 2013, in Gilardi v. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal court determined, that the contraceptive mandate imposed by the Act trammels the right of free exercise—a right that lies at the core of our constitutional liberties—as protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”3

1. http://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/opinions/12/12-6294.pdf. Accessed October 27, 2013.

2. http://www.snopes.com/politics/medical/hobbylobby.asp. Accessed October 27, 2013.

3. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/814108-gilardi-vs-hhs.html. Accessed November 7, 2013.

4. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/07/02/white-house-delays-employer-mandate-requirement-until-2015/. Accessed November 7, 2013.

5. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-02-15/pdf/2012-3547.pdf. Accessed November 7, 2013.

6. 1. http://www.kaiserhealthnews.org/Stories/2013/September/18/contraception-mandate-challenges.aspx. Accessed November 7, 2013.

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:

Genesis 1:27: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them”.

Psalm 127:3: “Truly children are a gift from the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward”.

Psalm 139: 13,15: “You knit me in my mother’s womb . . . nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret”.

Exodus 20:13: “Thou shalt not kill” and Christ reaffirms it (Matthew 19:18).

Sex Change Surgeries:

“Sex change is paid for by ObamaCare”

http://www.afa.net/Blogs/BlogPost.aspx?id=2147486140 accessed November 7, 2013.

DISCUSSION: Sex change is not reimbursable by Medicare or Medicaid under the new Affordable Care Act law.1

1. http://www.cms.gov/medicare-coverage-database/details/ncd-details.aspx?NCDId=83&ncdver=1&bc=AgAAQAAAAAAA&. Accessed October 27, 2013.

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:

Not a true statement.

Health Care For the Poor:

“ObamaCare will help the poor”

DISCUSSION: The Affordable Care Act places rules in place that work to provide health care to low-income populations in the following ways:

  • Medicaid Expansion: Federal funds are offered to states that choose to expand Medicaid. This will expand Medicaid eligibility to families and individuals up to 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. Some argue that since this mandate was determined to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court5, many of the poorest of the poor will still not have access to affordable health care.4
  • Health Insurance Exchanges have been set up and subsidies will be provided to people falling between 100% and 400% of the FPL.3
  • Health Insurance companies will be forced to limit out-of-pocket expenses to help the poor from going bankrupt from medical expenses. This provision has been delayed until 2015.1,2

1.http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq-aca12.html#3. Accessed November 7, 2013.

2. http://www.marketplace.org/topics/economy/health-care/another-obamacare-delay-out-pocket-limits-pushed-2015. Accessed November 7, 2013.

3. http://kff.org/interactive/subsidy-calculator/. Accessed November 7, 2013.

4. http://kff.org/health-reform/state-indicator/state-activity-around-expanding-medicaid-under-the-affordable-care-act/. Accessed November 7, 2013.

5. http://kff.org/health-reform/issue-brief/a-guide-to-the-supreme-courts-decision/. Accessed November 7, 2013.

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:

Leviticus 19:9-11: When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

Deuteronomy 15:11: There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.

Psalm 82:3-4: Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Proverbs 14:31: He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.

Proverbs 19:1: Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.

Proverbs 19:17: He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

Proverbs 21:13: If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:2: Rich and poor have this in common: The LORD is the Maker of them all.

Proverbs 29:7: The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

Job 30:25: Have I not wept for those in trouble? Has not my soul grieved for the poor?

Isaiah 61:1: The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…

Jeremiah 22:16: He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. “Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the LORD.

Zechariah 7:10: Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.

Matthew 25:37-40: Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Mark 10:21: looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Luke 12:33: Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.

Luke 14:12-14: Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

1 Corinthians 13:3: If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

James 2:5: Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

Forced Abortions:

“Doctors could be forced to facilitate abortions or prescribe drugs that violate their convictions.”

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2013/October/Obamacare-May-Trigger-Exodus-of-Christian-Doctors/, accessed October 2, 2013.

DISCUSSION: This is not true. There is no mandate for doctors to facilitate abortions. There is no evidence to support this.

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:

Not a true statement.

Christian Health Care Sharing Ministries are Exempt:

“Sharing ministries are exempt from the individual mandate penalty.”

DISCUSSION: The ACA allows those participating in Christian Health Care Sharing Ministries to be exempt from the individual mandate penalty if they meet certain criteria.1 These plans do not pay for abortions, “morning after pills”, or for other specified lifestyle choice interventions2.

There are only three organizations in the nation that qualify for these exemptions:

1. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-111publ148/pdf/PLAW-111publ148.pdf. (p. 107, 128) Accessed November 7, 2013. 2. http://mychristiancare.org/medi-share/. Accessed November 7, 2013.

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:

Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Acts 2: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%202&version=NIV

Acts 4: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%204&version=NIV

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On January 1, 2013, under The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “ObamaCare”),  a part of the law was enacted, giving authority (PHS Act section 2713(a)(4)) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop preventative health regulations. These regulations mandate that employers provide insurance to eligible employees and that they pay for certain women’s preventative services at no cost to their beneficiaries. These services include “all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity” (1). Some of these medications are drugs like, “Plan B” which the FDA says work “by preventing attachment (implantation) to the womb (uterus)” (6). The law does provide exemption from this part of the law to certain religious organizations. (2) However, on December 26, 2012, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor rejected Hobby Lobby’s request to temporarily stop the enactment of the regulation (3) ruling that the retail store chain owned and operated by Christians (The Green Family), could not be classified as an exempt “religious organization.” On January 4, 2013, CEO David Green (Net worth: $4.5 billion)(4), penned a letter (5) that stated his heartfelt beliefs and concerns about these newly enacted regulations-it quickly went viral.

I have really struggled with this part of the law and I wondered how I would respond to such a mandate. These are a few of my thoughts:

1. An Assault on Religious Freedoms: This law, and the associated HHS regulation, imposes upon those who lead companies a “tax” that pays for abortive drugs. There is no doubt in my mind that if I were David Green, I would not be OK with this. It would tug at my conscience and I believe he did the right thing in filing the lawsuit that he did. But to say that this law is taking away religious freedom is giving the law way too much power – a power it has not earned nor deserves. This law is not mandating that the Christian doctors I work with every day prescribe these abortive medications. It is not requiring that I wear a certain type of clothing or head covering, or even bow to a certain idol or person. This law will change absolutely nothing in my personal relationship with Christ. It changes only a line on a Christian’s insurance EOB (explanation of benefits) and what her insurance premiums will pay for. Let us not give undue power to the law of our nation.

2.Paying to Caesar: On June 28, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate was a “tax.” Well, taxes, in fact, were discussed a great deal in the New Testament. They were a sort of hot topic at the time as well. In Mark 12:13-17, the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus in his own words and asked him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This was a loaded question for that community. Jesus answered to them to, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The word “Caesar” came with all sorts of baggage – not too unlike the word, “Obama” carries today to some as well. But Tiberius Caesar’s  government was crucifying innocent men, exorbitantly taxing the poor, and offered almost no religious freedom. Tiberius in his personal life was a pedophile, a murderer, and by the very nature of being “Caesar”, claimed to be a god. The denarius Jesus held in his hand was funding this man’s administration. This was the man Jesus said to give what was rightfully his. This story carries more than just a discussion of paying the government taxes. It is much more about giving to God what is God’s! I may pay 25% of my paycheck to a government that supports abortion, instigates drone attacks, and carries out capital punishment…but my allegiance does not belong to my government or to my country – my heart does not beat for the president but it longs for my Savior. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Do I respect our President and love my country? Absolutely. But I do not fear them.

3. Innovate, Don’t Stagnate: Hobby Lobby faces almost certain financial peril should the SCOTUS uphold their decision. Jesus was sending out his disciples in Matthew 10:16 and undoubtedly they were facing significant danger  as well. It was at that time that he warned them to be, “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Synonyms of “shrewd” are, “clever, smart, sharp, astute, and sly”. I truly hope that Mr. Green gets ridiculously creative and lovingly shames those who may impose upon him these regulations. What if David Green boldly switches his business model into a not-for-profit “religious organization” to incorporate abortion prevention services and ministries to those reeling from past abortions. What if he gathered the most creative innovators he could find to stage loving displays of dissidence. This could be Mr. Green’s most challenging yet brightest hour…and even better yet – our Lord would be glorified.

4. Commitment To Conscience: Several years ago, I purchased David Green’s book, More Than a Hobby and was impressed by his commitment to his faith. It’s a good read. I bought the book years before Hobby Lobby was all over the news so I pulled the book off my shelf several days ago to again peruse its pages. What amazed me was that the language we have heard Mr. Green using on all of the media outlets was the very same language he used years ago before his business was faced with near-certain financial ruin if he held to those very same values. Chapter 12 entitled, “This is Not a Secular Business”, could have been taken straight off the front page of today’s newspaper. I have deep admiration for this gentleman. He was committed to following Christ years ago when he was building a brand, and he remains committed to his walk when the road is difficult as well. “Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered, but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.” Proverbs 28:18.

5. De-Politicize It: The two foes have taken their respective corners and the fighting has begun. The GOP has rallied around Hobby Lobby as they hold high their banner of the “Evangelical Right”. The Left has rallied around the Affordable Care Act and the Obama Administration as they hold high their banner of the “rights of women.” But these divisions only clarify for me even more that God’s Kingdom is not of this world. The Left is blind to the fact that though they are the party of the underdog, they trample on the lives of those most helpless. And the Right is blind to the fact that though they are the champion of the unborn, they often turn away from the poor. I realize that these are over-generalizations. But my point is this: Our hope is not in laws, lobbyists, or lawyers-it is not in our Country or our President-it is not in our freedom from worldly oppression…it is in the Salvation, Grace, and Mercy that our Redeemer has freely given. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7

A recent post has gone viral around Facebook:

“Last month, the Senate Budget Committee reports that in fiscal year 2011, between food stamps, housing support, child care, Medicaid and other benefits, the average US household below the poverty line received $168 a day in government support. What’s the problem with that much support? Well, the median household income in America is just over $50,000, which averages out to $137.13 a day. To put it another way, being on welfare now pays the equivalent of $30 an hour for a 40-hour week, while the average job pays $25 an hour. And the person who works also has to pay taxes, which drops his pay to $21 an hour. It’s no wonder that welfare is now the biggest part of the budget, more than Social Security or defense. And why would anyone want to get off welfare when working pays $9 an hour less?” (1)

This post refers to a Senate Budget Committee report lead by U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee. As much as I am for budget reform and fiscal responsibility, I immediately saw several flaws and/or disturbing aspects of this report.

1. The “Welfare Programs”: The 83 “Welfare programs” that total up to the $1.03 trillion in welfare costs include programs such as the “Additional Child Tax Credit, Pell Grants, Federal Work Study Programs, Child Support Enforcement, Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Adoption Assistance, Foster Care, Weatherization Assistance Program (2). These programs are portrayed as the programs that directly go into the pockets of the poor. This is hardly so.

2. Below the Poverty Line: This report divides the total “welfare expenditures” ($1.03 trillion) by families living below the federal poverty level (FPL). In 2011, the U.S. had an estimated  61.3 million people below 100% FPL (3). However, the key problem with these numbers is that many of the above, “welfare programs” are provided to individuals with incomes up to 200% FPL. For example, in Ohio, children and pregnant women may be eligible for Medicaid services if their income falls below 200% FPL (4). If you include the individuals whose household incomes fall between 100% and 200% FPL, you add tens of millions of people. An estimated 8% (25 million souls) of the U.S. population have incomes falling between 100% and 138% FPL (5). Add in those falling between 138% and 200% FPL and that number nears the 50 million mark.

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3. Simple Math: If you take $1.03 trillion and divide it by 61.3 million souls, you will get a number that is (falsely) higher than if you took $1.03 trillion and divided it by 100 million souls. It is not clear exactly where the committee got its numbers but I did a little calculating on my own.Screen Shot 2013-01-04 at 12.38.57 AM

If the average household size is 2.64 souls (U.S. Census Data, Average Household Size, (6), I figure that with my numbers, the “below 100% FPL” should be $170.14 ($30.94/hour) per household of “welfare program costs”. When you include those with household income “below 200% FPL”, the per household welfare costs drop to $104.30 ($18.96/hour). Even using this committee’s math (which I feel is faulty), the numbers change dramatically when you near reality.

4. Painting a Picture: Probably my biggest problem with this entire report is that it paints the picture of the poor getting wealthy off “the system”. It implies that all of these welfare dollars are going to people in cash form when this is simply not true or accurate. It compares government assistance (apples) to hourly wages (oranges). It “villainifies” a people who are oppressed by their circumstances (and sometimes bad decisions) and who have complex socioeconomic challenges (mental illness, chronic disease, criminal histories, developmental delays, histories of abuse, and drug use). My friends, I dare to go so far as to say this is sinful. We as Christians are to be the champions of the oppressed. At the very minimum, we should be accurately portraying the truth (truth in love would be icing on the cake). Is the system broken? Absolutely. Is abuse of the system rampant? No doubt. But we as followers of Christ should be the fighters on the front line working to give “cups of cold water” in His name.