Will Your Church Pay Off Your Debts?

There’s an interesting trend in churches today that is designed to help struggling families pay their medical debt. You’ve probably seen the headlines—a church in Kansas eliminated $2.2 million, another in Illinois covered $4 million. Even a small church in Maryland paid off $1.9 million. It’s a movement that is picking up steam.

This is a good thing. Helping the poor should be a primary mission of the church. For most of my life, it has been a back-burner concern for the church, so it’s nice to see it given the attention it deserves. Or is it? What is this all about.

When a person has medical debts they can’t pay, they are cycled through a series of collection agencies. When a collector is unsuccessful, they will sell the debt to another collector at a reduced rate. This might happen a half a dozen times before it is finally considered a lost cause. All of this is after the original creditor has written off the amount as a loss.Medical Debt

All the while, the person who owes the debt must deal with harassing phone calls, angry letters, and threats to sue. As you can imagine, their credit is trashed as delinquencies are added to their report each month. By the time the collectors give up, the debtor has ruined credit and lost hope of ever paying it off.

Along comes one final attempt. An enterprising company swoops up the unpaid notes by paying pennies on the dollar. They then bundle it up and sell it in huge chunks. If you want to cancel a person’s debt, give this company $100, and they will wipe out a $10,000 note. In other words, the debts are being settled for 1% of the debt. I’m not sure, but I suspect the debt was reduced substantially before being sold off, so the reality is that it is far less than 1%.

Churches realize they can “help” hundreds of families by paying off millions of dollars in debt with a small amount of money. For every $10,000 raised, they can wipe out $1 million of debt. It sounds like a win/win. Everybody should be happy.

There are winners in this scenario. The companies that organize this whole thing are probably the biggest winner (check out www.ripmedicaldebt.org). The church garners great publicity and members feel good about themselves. Perhaps even the debtor might feel better getting rid of an albatross that was given up for dead years ago.

However, if the church really wants to help the poor, there is a much better way. The first and most obvious suggestion I could make is to stop fighting against every effort to make health care affordable. In case you don’t understand what I’m saying, you Republicans need to come up with a health care plan that benefits the poor instead of stonewalling every effort made by others. Many of you are in the church, so you should understand God’s concern for the poor.

A second suggestion is to assist the poor before their credit is trashed, and they are beaten down by collectors. Latch on to these folks when they leave the hospital, not after they’ve been struggling for years to pay the debts. Help them when your help is still valuable. It might not be as flashy, and it certainly won’t show up in newspaper headlines, but it will be more practical and helpful.

A third idea is to not give your money to an organization that is buying up this debt and selling it for a substantial profit but give the money directly to the people who need it. The Rip Medical Debt folks have a debt elimination counter on their website that is moving faster than the federal debt counter. I’m not an accountant, but the best I can tell by looking at their 2018 tax report, they purchased approximately $2.3 million of debt and raised $5.4 million in contributions. There’s money to be made somewhere in this.

I’m not suggesting this is a bad thing; it’s just not the best thing. It is encouraging to hear about churches expressing concern for the poor, but let’s make sure that it is true concern for the poor and not just a publicity stunt.

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Impeachment for Dummies

I hope we can all agree with the following statement: It is not a good thing for foreign governments or entities to be involved with our elections. If you disagree with that statement, it’s best that you move on because this article has nothing of value for you.

Essentially, what I’m saying is that we don’t want the Russians, Koreans, Chinese, Ukrainians, Swahilis, or any other non-American citizen influencing the outcome of our voting. We want to elect our own people—thank you!impeachment

Therefore, to invite or encourage a foreign government or entity to become involved in our elections is also a bad thing. President Trump has, by his own admission and according to our own eyes and ears, done that. During his campaign, we all heard him invite the Russians to “find Hillary’s emails.” He was clear during a TV interview when asked directly and confirmed he would accept foreign interference. We all read the transcript of his phone conversation with the Ukrainian president and asked him to investigate Joe Biden. We also listened over the roar of the helicopter as he encouraged the Chinese also to investigate Biden. There is no doubt Trump sought foreign interference in our election. His supporters don’t even dispute this fact. He did!

Now, here’s the point of the entire article. Pay attention to what I say next. If Trump is not impeached for what he has already done, what is to keep him from doing the same thing on a larger scale? Continue reading

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When Heroes Disappear

I was a fervent lover of baseball as a kid. Growing up in Colorado meant we had no access to Major League Baseball games, so I never attended a game until many years later. The nearest team was in St. Louis, and I can remember listening to games at night on a transistor radio. It wasn’t always a clear signal, but through the static, I could usually pick up KMOX, and they broadcast the Cardinals’ games. Normally, I hid under a blanket because it was past bedtime and if my mother heard the radio, she would make me turn it off.

You might think I cheered for the Red Birds, and I did like Stan Musial, but for some reason, I was a die-hard Yankee fan. Like half the boys in my generation, my hero was Mickey Mantle. In 1962, when my brother was born, I lobbied hard for my parents to name him Mickey Roger Austin because of the epic home run duel Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris were involved with the previous summer. My efforts were in vain, and my brother carries the name Steve Austin (not the famous one).

I loved everything about Mickey Mantle. One of the first things I did every morning was tear through the sports page and find the box scores just to see how he did the day before. I never saw him play except for the occasional Saturday Game of the Week when the Yankees happened to play. I knew everything a 12-year-old boy could know about someone back in those pre-Internet times.heroes

Many years later, I learned the Mickey had an alcohol problem and that he liked to party, getting by on the verge of constantly being disciplined by the team. I didn’t know that, and I might not have believed it at the time. He was my hero. By the way, heroes will always disappoint us.

I have had other heroes over the years.

When I was a pastor far away from colleagues and libraries, I stumbled across a radio program called “Grace to You.” I loved the music at the beginning and end of the program— “Oh How He Loves You and Me.” I still catch myself singing it at times. The heart of the program was the preaching of John MacArthur, and for a young preacher thirsting for good Bible study, he was a life saver. I bought his books, followed his notes, used his material for my own sermon research. If I’m going to be totally honest, I’m sure I even preached a few of his sermons. He wasn’t a great preacher, but I thought he was an amazing teacher. He was a hero for me. Continue reading

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My Church Started Speaking Another Language (and it wasn’t unknown tongues)

Rodolfo has been taking care of my yard for three or four years. He does a great job and is one of the hardest working guys I know. I see him all over the neighborhood, mowing and trimming grass. He tends to residential lawns as well as commercial property. We got hooked up because he was doing my next-door neighbor’s yard and I needed someone. I caught him one day and suggested he could make us both a good deal since our yards were essentially one. He agreed.

He no longer does the yards of any of my immediate neighbors, but he still does mine. I’ve increased what I pay him, not because he has ever asked for more but just because I thought it was more fair.

Rodolfo is probably about 50 years old, has a couple of daughters in college, and a wife who sometimes works with him. He has long hair that hangs in a ponytail halfway down his back. Also, he speaks less English than I speak Spanish. Yet we communicate. If I need him to do something that requires complex explanation, I’ll leave a message on his phone and his daughter will call back and explain to her dad what I need. Done, it’s taken care of.Language

I like Rodolfo, and I think he likes me. We try to communicate beyond, “Buenos Dias,” and a few arm waves, but we don’t get much further. Until one of us bites the bullet and learns the language, Rodolfo and I will never be close friends. Communication is an integral part of relationships.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who build a relationship strictly on language and very little else. I guess the clearest example of this is our Facebook friends. I have 1,143 Facebook friends. I know that a few of that number have died, and a high percentage of those still living have never been in the same room with me at any time in our lives. We are friends only in the sense that we speak a common language.

I’ve lost many Facebook friends over the years because of the language I speak on Facebook. To be honest, none of my siblings are on my Friend’s List. They’ve never said anything, but I don’t think they like my politics. Since we speak a different language, we find it challenging to be Facebook Friends. (Don’t worry, in real life we are good.)

Only relating to those who speak the same language would be boring and unfulfilling. Who would do my yard for me? I guess I could hire some high school kid to mow the grass, but I’m not sure we would communicate any better.

If you only relate to those who speak the same language, you will find yourself isolated from much of the world. Do it long enough, and you essentially become useless to the world, since the only thing you know is the same things your friends already know. That’s why it’s dangerous to get all your news and information from one source and surround yourself with only people who see the world the same way you do. When that occurs, you don’t actually have a relationship; all you have is a common language.

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The Democrats’ Strategy to Re-Elect Trump

Imagine two kids on the playground in an argument. It doesn’t matter what they’re arguing about; the point is that someone has to win. That’s the whole point of arguing. Most arguments don’t have a clear winner, so it can go on indefinitely. After exhausting all reasoning, one kid will say something like, “Yeh, but my Dad’s stronger than your Dad.”

You know the next line, “No he’s not, my Dad’s stronger!”

“Well, my Dad’s faster than yours.”

“No, my Dad’s the fastest!”

There’s no reasonable end to this dispute because whatever position is taken by one disputant, the other will take the opposite.Election

This childhood arguing style has been adopted by Democrats and puts them in danger of making them irrelevant and out of touch with the majority of people. You can see this pattern with almost every issue. In fact, I might even suggest that President Trump is aware of what is happening and using it to cause Democrats to paint themselves into a corner. It pains me to say it, but he might be outsmarting his opponents.

Let me explain how it works as we take a look at the major issues.

The issue that began Trump’s political career was immigration. He fired the initial shot as he descended an escalator into a pack of reporters to announce his candidacy. The conversation quickly morphed into building a border wall and deporting all illegal immigrants living in the country. After more than two years of pushing and shoving, back and forth claiming that one side is better than the other, it was announced this weekend that people in the country illegally will be rounded up and shipped out.

In response, the Democrats had to support what they have chosen as their strategy, they quickly moved to the opposite extreme. Speaker Pelosi labeled this action as immoral because it is designed to “terrorize children and tear families apart.” She went on to explain to illegals how to use their rights to avoid being deported.

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The Unfairness of God

During our Sunday morning gathering today, the discussion wandered into the subject of the unfairness of life. I don’t know about you, but even though life has been good to me, it has not been fair.

Many years ago, when my mind was quicker and my decision-making ability keener, I was hired to work in communications at the police department in the northern suburbs of Denver. It was the place where they answer the 911 calls and talk on the radio to police and other emergency responders. They were desperately seeking someone with my skill set and experience, so to entice me to leave the job I already had, they offered me more money than normal. That kind of opportunity does not come around very often, so I took the position.

However, it created a rather awkward situation where I was making more money than my supervisor. I was sworn to secrecy, and I did my part to keep my salary to myself. After several months, somehow, she discovered how much I was being paid and, needless to say, she did not take the news well. For some reason, she chose to take out her frustration on me.Unfairness of God

Her salary had nothing to do with me. Before I arrived, she was content with her wages. When she discovered that I was making more money, all of sudden she felt that she was being treated unfairly. Although she and I never discussed the situation, it was not a good environment. She blamed me for the fact that she was treated unfairly.

I have thought about this experience many times over the years as I have seen how people like to compare their income with the incomes of those around them. Many of us like to determine our value by the wages we earn, so when someone makes more money, they must be a better person in some way. Jesus told us that money is a powerful force.

However, the real issue for my supervisor was fairness. It was not fair that she was paid less even though she was in charge and had seniority. We like to speak of being treated fairly. That is all that we really want – just give us our fair share. The word “fair” means to be just, reasonable, or impartial.

Jesus spoke a parable about this kind of fairness (see Matthew 20). A landowner hired a group of laborers to work his field all day for an agreed upon price. The task was larger than first thought, so he returned every few hours to secure more laborers. This process continued all day, until the eleventh hour, just sixty minutes before the end of the day. The early morning crew must have been curious all day long, wondering how much the late arrivers were going to be paid.

They did not wait long to find out since the ones who arrived late were the first to be paid. The early risers must have been very excited to note that the late arrivers received a full day’s pay. That must mean they would be paid extra, the only fair thing to do. However, their excitement turned quickly into despair and then anger when they realized they would only receive the agreed upon price they had negotiated at the beginning of the day. Those who worked one hour were paid the identical amount as those who labored all day. That does not seem fair!

However, what the laborers defined as “unfairness,” the landowner called it “generosity.” He was completely fair since he had kept his word and paid them as promised. Their problem was his generosity toward others.

If you have lived more than a few years with your eyes open, you have discovered that we do not live in a fair world. We are all distinguished by a unique set of physical characteristics, mental capabilities, and life experiences. I have been blessed with abundance in many ways, but it is not fair that I have never been able to simply stand up and walk across the room. As long as we reside in this world, unfairness will be a part of our experience.

An equally important truth is that we really do not want fairness from God. I don’t want God to give me what I deserve; what I earn. I hope and pray that He is generous. That is why we should never begrudge His generosity toward others.

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Patriotism is Not Militarism

When did patriotism become militarism? The dictionary definition of militarism is “the tendency to regard military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state and to subordinate all other interests to those of the military.” It seems that many Americans are content to define patriotism as nothing more than supporting the military.

As we commemorate the Fourth of July, Independence Day, it should be a celebration of freedom, not military power. Freedom is the greatest possession we have because of our citizenship. Preceding generations fought wars to secure and preserve that freedom, but that doesn’t mean we celebrate the warfare.

The last war fought in order to maintain our freedom was World War II. All the wars we have fought since then have done little to preserve that freedom. In my lifetime, we fought a war in Korea to keep one country from invading another. In Vietnam, we fought against the feared “Domino Effect” of losing a country to communism. Desert Storm was for the purpose of protecting our oil interests in a small country. Beginning in 2001, we have fought the war on terror in Afghanistan and Iraq. You can say that Afghanistan was retaliation against an attack, but Iraq served no purpose at all. After nearly two decades, this war still rages with no end in sight.Militarism

Yet, Independence Day arrives, and we celebrate the war machine as if it’s the only thing worth celebrating. Patriotism is now measured by how much we appreciate the military. If you suggest any improvement that needs to happen in our country, then you are considered unpatriotic, but most importantly, you don’t support our troops. When athletes chose not to stand during the national anthem to protest police violence against blacks, they were accused of hating soldiers. Their protest had nothing to do with the military.

I remember when the Fourth of July was America’s birthday, and we celebrated the life of our nation, not our killing ability. The biggest celebration planned this year is a massive military parade in Washington where our President, like a dictator, can require “his army” to parade before him in a show of force.

Everyone already knows our military is the most powerful. It should be. We spend more than the rest of the world combined to make it possible. But a powerful military is not what makes being an American special. Our country has been at war for half my life, yet not once has our freedom been threatened. Millions of people have died in these senseless wars, and I find it difficult to celebrate the fact that our military can do it all again without missing a beat.

It’s time to celebrate the good things about the United States—things like freedom of speech, a strong resilient economy, a beautiful country with vast open spaces and sprawling cities. It’s time to celebrate our neighborhoods where people gather in ethnic clusters and create eclectic communities. We can celebrate the fact that the United States is a melting pot, a hodgepodge of cultures, lifestyles, appetites, and preferences.

The thing that holds us together is not our military, it’s our freedom. The freedom to be whoever we are or the freedom to be like everyone else. The freedom to say whatever we want or to blend in with the majority. The freedom to go it alone or stay with a group. The freedom to vote however we want without having our patriotism challenged.

And perhaps, most importantly, the freedom to say thank you to our military without acknowledging that they are the most important element of America. Some will be quick to say that if it were not for the military, then we would not have freedom. While that’s probably true, it’s also true that if it were not for freedom, having a military would not be worth much. When you go to a child’s birthday party, you celebrate the child, not the parents who provide and protect, not the teacher who educates, not the policeman who guards. You celebrate the child. All are important, but on the child’s birthday, you celebrate the child.

On America’s birthday, let’s celebrate America, not the military that protects us.

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