The Growing Healthcare Crisis Among Ministers?

November 19, 2014

First, this post is not about partisan politics. I am not inviting any harsh rhetoric or political debates. This would be counterproductive.

I am inviting a dialogue. I am seeking information. Perhaps something you know could help someone else.

Those who are in full-time ministry occupy a rather unique tax status. We are considered self-employed when it comes to Social Security, but employed when it comes to income tax. That is one financial hurdle of our profession.

Another one–particularly for those of us serving in independent fellowships (such as the Churches of Christ)–is that there is no church-wide system to assist us in such things as planning retirement and healthcare. If assistance for these things exists they are negotiated through the local congregation in which we serve. And since most of our congregations of the Churches of Christ are not that large they cannot afford much more than just a salary. This leaves the minister alone to bear the expense of both retirement and healthcare and quite often either one or both go lacking.

I have seen and lived the consequences of this over the years. I know ministers who continue to work well past retirement years out of necessity (yes, some continue because they enjoy serving and could not imagine ever not being involved in ministry). I have also known (and this seems to be only increasing) ministers who have either no or very inadequate healthcare coverage (particularly if they do not receive it through the employment of their spouse).

Yes, there seems to be a growing healthcare crisis among ministers. While I do not know the workings of or specific details about the new Affordable Healthcare Act–the information I am getting from fellow ministers is, that it is only making an already expensive situation even more costly and more complicated.

(Personal disclosure: I and my family do have healthcare coverage which we provide for ourselves. Currently I have a grandfathered health insurance policy. It is standard stuff, but not widely accepted in my area. I am able to use it, but only with one hospital system in my city. This is not ACA related. This has to do with my insurance brand and how they do business with the local hospitals and doctors. My wife and kids have another standard type policy with another insurer which is widely accepted. They are good through 2015 and then (we have been told) because of the ACA will have to find other coverage. I disclose this to say that I yet have had to deal with the changes brought in by the ACA and therefore cannot personally speak to it. My conclusion of the ACA increasing costs comes from information shared by other ministers currently involved/enrolled in it.)

So, what can be done about this crisis? What can our churches do to help? What alternatives are out there besides what is offered through the ACA? Is the ACA actually working for any ministers?

Ministers and their families without healthcare is not only a personal issue, it would seem to be a congregational one as well. What would happen in your congregation if an uninsured minister or family member became ill or were injured in an accident? Would the congregation feel compelled to cover the costs (or at least some of them)? Would it not be better stewardship then to help provide healthcare for you minister–before a tragedy occurs? What would the weight of healthcare debt do to the ability of a minister to serve effectively? Could this force him out of ministry into another profession that offers healthcare options? There are many questions here–including is there really a crisis?

Perhaps you know some of the answers to these questions. Your input on this is welcome.


Can the Church do Anything Right?

October 22, 2014

IRRELEVANT-300x127

It is tough being the church these days.

From what I hear she is bigoted and homophobic. She is full of right-wing fanatics. Her teaching and approach is woefully archaic. She is a hypocrite. She is unable to keep up and is now totally out of the cultural conversation. She is dying.

Why would anyone ever take her seriously?

Have you been to her worship? Seriously? Talk about boring! She just can’t seem to get that right either. She is stuck in an institutional model better suited for the mid twentieth century. She can’t even please her members. Folks are leaving her right and left—or threatening to, if she does not change to please them.

So, no thanks! If her own cannot get along—who would want to go there and do that?

She always seems to be on the wrong side of the issues. She is way too slow to adopt fresh thinking and technology. And money? She seems to have plenty, but wants more and hardly ever spends it in appropriately. She is no longer trustworthy.

No, there is just not much attraction there.

Sure, there does seem to be some churches still hanging around, but usually they are scandal ridden and cultish. The leaders are suspect. These churches are relics–desperate to cling to stale traditions. What good does the church do anyway? She is ultimately self-serving.

Is it any wonder that she is closing her doors all across the land?

She is full of sinners claiming to be saints—a self-righteous lot. They claim to know Jesus, but hardly ever act like him. They preach love and harmony, but practice hatred and division. I will take Jesus any day but not the church.

She just cannot do anything right. What clear thinking person could ever love and want her?

Well, there is someone. He loves her so much that he “gave himself up for her.” He did so despite her faults. Because of his overwhelming love she is “holy” and “radiant.” She is “without stain or wrinkle but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

That person must be dilussional! Who could possibly think this? What gives?

Jesus does. He gave the church his all and continues to do so. He knows her struggles, but loves her anyway. She is his bride and one day he is coming to reclaim her in all of her beauty (Revelation 19:7-9). To Jesus she is simply stunning.

Jesus and his church—it remains a passionate love story!

Can the church do anything right?

What would Jesus say?


10,000 Reasons– 2014 BFC

August 5, 2014

BFC 2014

Every year as we begin planning for the next Baltic Family Camp (BFC), I always have a moment or two of doubts. These doubts are not God-centered; they are self-centered. Is it worth all of the effort? Can we bring it all together again? Will families and individuals in the Baltic region of Europe still want to attend and participate? These moments are fleeting, but still real. Then we arrive at Camp Ruta in Molatai, Lithuania and enjoy a grand reunion with old friends and welcome new ones. I just silently say to myself–O ye of little faith!

The 2014 edition of the BFC gave me 10,000 reasons why this ministry effort is indeed worth every investment into it. It was a pure joy to be there together with brothers and sisters in Christ from the countries of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Russia, Germany, Sweden, England, and yes, this year–India (for a total of 96 people). The BFC truly illustrates that God’s kingdom knows no boundaries and that our bond in Christ Jesus is stronger than any nationality.

One of the main purposes of the BFC is to offer missionary families in that part of Europe the chance for rest and refreshment. We welcomed Mark and Karen Abercrombie (Liepzig, Germany); Ilia and Daiva Amosov and Juozas and Zivile Puodziukatis and family (Vilnius, Lithuania); Kestutis Puodziunas (Klaipeda, Lithuania); Joel and Yana Petty and family and Oleg and Natasha Yakimenko and family (St. Petersburg, Russia); George and Gabreille Opoku and family (Stockholm, Sweden); Jerry and Trina Ross and family (Tartu, Estonia); and Victor Barviks (Riga, Latvia) to the camp this session.

Bap AtileIn addition we welcomed Christian families and individuals from across this region as we studied, fellowshipped, played, and worshipped together. Thirteen year old, Atile, who is one of the daughters of a faithful family from Kaunas, Lithuania was baptized into Christ by her dad. The church in this city–the second largest in Lithuania–meets in the home of her parents, Gediminus and Indre Ileviciene.

Did I mention we had a brother from India this year? His name is Chorlian Samsom Karumanchi. He came via the church in Tallinn, Estonia. Sansom’s father is a preacher in India and his family operates the Sathupally Children’s Home. The small church in Tallinn has partnered with them and made this orphanage a mission point for their church.

We had an incredible American team (most being from the Levy church in North Little Rock, AR but also this year from Clinton, MS, Plano, TX, Gueydan, LA and Leoma, TN) who served in various ways throughout the week including Richard and Jeanna Lynn May. They took their What God Has Joined marriage ministry on the road to Camp Ruta. This type of Christian-based ministry to married couples is greatly needed in the Baltics.

Our theme this year was inspired by the song, 10,000 Reasons. We did discover  through our time together many reasons to bless the Lord and many more reasons why God is doing an amazing work with the Baltic Family Camp.

No doubt about it.


Five Reasons Why Country Music Lost Me

July 8, 2014

And now for something different from me. Just had to get this off my chest. Cmusic

From my earliest days I connected to country music and I’ve never really fully understood why. I have never frequented a honky-tonk, but loved to hear both Hank Sr. and Jr. sing about them. Drinking and cheating have never attracted me, but George Jones singing about them did. I enjoy listening to Loretta; The Man in Black; Merle Haggard; Willie, Waylon and the boys. I embraced Alabama when they burst on the country scene and shook it up. Of course, I am a fan of George Strait and Alan Jackson.

But now, my radio is rarely tuned to a country music station. Country music has lost me.

Here is why:

  • Lack of authenticity. I really feel personally conflicted on this one. On one hand I do not want to see anyone suffer. On the other hand, the best country music has seemed to flow out of life struggles. George and Tammy sang what they lived. Bocephus and his “young country” rockabilly outlaws passionately lived and sang from their souls. Toby Keith had a little hopeful run, but now it all seems plastic and pre-recorded.
  • Pop influence. What I hear on country music radio sounds like pop music with a touch of the steel guitar. Nashville has gone Hollywood.
  • Fake Twangs. I am not saying that all country music singers must come from the southern part of the United States, but at least in this part of the world our twangs are genuine.
  • Wrong demographic. This really may be the reason behind the reasons. I am now too old to relate to teenagers singing about breaking up with boyfriends.
  • It just “ain’t” country. At least not what I grew up with and enjoy. Yep things change and evolve. Some change and evolve with it. Others become dinosaurs like me and get left behind.

I think of one of the Possum’s songs. His reflection and question about long-gone country music legends (of which he is now one) still resonates–“who’s gonna fill their shoes?”

Thanks for indulging me.

 

 


Five Transformative Texts

July 2, 2014

All Scripture is inspired, but there are some texts that speak a weightier word from the Lord.bible pic

Here are five transformative texts which do that for me:

  • Exodus 20:1-7. These are the first three of the Ten Words. It is Yahweh identifying himself; speaking of the overarching significance of recognizing Him and His Name alone. In a culture with competing gods, Israel was to honor the Only True One. Their identity was to singularly flow from who He was. Their purpose as a people all depended upon this. If they failed to have “no other gods” before Him; they would completely fail regardless of any other factors. In fact this is what happened. It all connected back to a failure to heed these first three commandments. This is why this text remains transformative. Prioritize God first. Honor His Name above all names and our hearts will remain The Potter’s clay.
  • Hosea 6:6 (restated by Christ in both Matthew 9:13 & 12:7). The prophet Hosea lived in unstable and ungodly times. Israel had drifted far away from her purpose to be a light to other nations. Dramatically, Hosea’s own life revealed the adultery Israel had committed with other gods. Still, they managed to hold onto ritual–offering sacrifices to Yahweh, which were totally void of heart and meaning. Generations later Jesus would encounter a different Israel, but with the same empty ritualistic approach to God. So he recalled Hosea’s words: I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Generations after Christ, we still gravitate toward ritual and away from mercy. “Doing” church can never trump “being” Christ.
  • Micah 6:8. Staying in the Minor Prophets during the same general historical time-frame as Hosea. Micah’s plea to an unrepentant Israel beautifully reveals the kind of people God desires in any generation: He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This remains a watershed text–wonderfully summing up who God wants us to be.
  • Matthew 22:26-40. The Greatest Commands. This connects to all the other texts. Love God first with everything you’ve got. Then you can proceed to humbly express that love or that mercy or that justice toward others. It is transformation. It is God breathing life and meaning from His being into ours. When His Name is above all names, everything changes. We are truly free to love, serve and obey Him and to freely share these incredible gifts–without boundaries to others. Which brings us to my last text…
  • Matthew 28:19-20. The Great Comission. Yes, Christ urges us on toward sharing: to tell what the Lord has done for us; to “go into all the world.” It is part of our purpose–as it was for Israel. It is the outflowing of the kingdom of God to every tribe and people. It is the way others hear of the One who is above all else.

All of these texts are life-changing. At least they have been for me.

Perhaps you have some transformative texts of your own to share?


Five Ways to Destroy your Church

June 26, 2014

All churches struggle to some degree. No way around it as long as we are a part of them. This should be nothing new or surprising. Just read the New Testament.

But some struggles do more damage than others. Some can destroy the health and vitality of our church. They can just zap The Spirit right out of us. Literally.

Here are my not-so-fab five:

  1. Apathy. One of the most infamous churches in the New Testament is Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22). Christ called them “lukewarm.” Our word is apathetic. They had no passion; no desire to serve; no zeal to share. They were dying and this was distasteful to Christ. Apathy sits atop my list because it invades and makes its home in too many churches. No growth. No concern. Status quo. Until the doors close for good.
  2. Fear. It partners with apathy. It is the antithesis of the spirit of God (2 Timothy 1:7). Yet it reigns supreme in many churches who are too timid to shake off failed methodology and stale tradition; who are unable to embrace the full significance of God’s power due to a need for control; who allow fear to paralyze and prevent vision. God has the antidote for fear (1 John 4:18). Healthy, growing churches embrace it.
  3. Division. God literally hates disunity (Proverbs 6:19). When churches unhappily divide they undermine the reconciling message of the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2). Our unequivocal “endeavor” in our churches is to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-4). Division sends the wrong message; it devastates the church’s influence; and damages it ability to be the church. Division has destroyed many churches.
  4. Judgmental Spirits. The Roman church in the New Testament was rife with this. Finger pointing and self-righteousness defined them (Romans 2:1-4). This is one reason Paul reminded them that, “there in no one righteous; not even one” ( 3:10). When anyone begins to think of themselves more highly than they should and then begins to make judgments toward others based on that self-inflation, trouble usually follows within a church. In Rome, Paul’s finger pointed to the cross- to Christ (3:21-26). When churches focus on him- judgmental spirits will end. If not churches may end.
  5. Hypocrisy. Perhaps nothing stains the image of the church like hypocrisy. It destroys the ability of the church to impact community. Jesus made clear his attitude about hypocrisy (Matthew 23:13-37). It is unattractive and ungodly.

And we cannot forget this one:

  • False Teaching. Of the kind present in Galatia and Colossae. Though different, each in its own way undermined the lordship and supremacy of Christ. Paul called the Galatia teaching “another gospel” (Galatians 1:6-9). The heresy in Colossae was based upon “human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Both had to eradicated from these churches. False teaching comes in diverse forms–from subtle shifts that nudge Christ into the background to full broadside attacks on his sovereignty. Either way when a church ceases to be connected to its head- Christ (Colossians 1:17-20), it ceases to be church.

Avoiding these church destroyers must be our goal. Never should these define us.

Always–Christ should.


Baltic Family Camp 2014

June 17, 2014

BFC image 14Christians from all over central Europe will be gathering (God willing) at a former Soviet pioneer camp in southeastern Lithuania on the dates of July 28-August 2. Camp Ruta near the Lithuanian village of Molatai will host the third annual Baltic Family Camp (BFC). Our theme for the session is “10,000 Reasons’ and people from Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Russia, Germany, Sweden, England, Lithuania and the United States will spend this week in study, praise, fellowship, and fun.

The concept of the BFC is to provide missionaries, Christian families and individuals an opportunity to rest, relax, and refresh together in the Lord. The churches represented by those who attend the BFC are small and separated by hundreds of miles. The BFC has helped to create a sense of brotherhood among them–connecting them with a network of believers who now interact all throughout the year. It has been a joy and a blessing to witness!

The BFC has two separate daily schedules–one for the children who attend with their family and another for the adults. Bible classes and marriage enrichment classes are offered daily for adults while the kids follow a typical camp-type schedule: Bible classes; sports, games, and activities; as well as arts and crafts. The highlight of each evening is our worship together.

God just continues to bless this effort and each year the camp has grown. I solicit your prayers as we journey over very soon. As camps go–this is one of the best in which I have ever been involved.

And just to keep in step with the pattern of this blog–here are five reasons why!

  • I love Lithuania. I have been working in this country since 1996 including two years as a resident missionary in the capital city of Vilnius. It is a lovely little country with great people.
  • The fellowship. It is wonderful to witness the bond that the BFC has created among the diverse people who participate. I rejoice when I hear of the connections that grow between these Christians. They live so far apart and their churches are small and resources limited. The BFC has provided for them a sense of brotherhood that we often take for granted.
  • The people. Of course! I get to renew many older relationships and establish new ones. We may speak different languages but we are one in Christ Jesus!
  • The weather. How about highs in the upper 70s to lower 80s and lows in the 50s at night–in July and August?
  • The food! Yes, I love me some Lithuanian blynai (better known to us as pancakes). I do not lose weight at camp, I usually gain it! :)

May God bless our efforts in the BFC in 2014!

 


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