Thursday, November 3, 2011

Social Services

What responsibility should society and government have in providing resources and assistance to its constituents? How much should government sponsored, citizen funded social support programs and products such as food stamps (EBT), Section 8, Unemployment benefits, government sponsored health care, etc. be available and to whom? Are we entitled to these benefits? Do we have a right as citizens of America to expect access to these services?

Let’s establish a couple of foundational understandings up front before I share my thoughts and opinion on this subject. First, Government is funded by its citizens… always has been and always will be. The revenue or income that the government receives is from the taxes it imposes upon its citizens. Very rarely will you find a government with access to natural resources, goods and/or services that it can take to market and generate enough revenue to sustain itself. By and large, governments obtain their financial resources by the taxes paid by its citizens.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a free lunch…somebody is paying for it. Every time something is “given away”, someone actually paid for it. Buy one get one free…not really… you paid the price for both of them. Get a free whatever, when you sign up for whatever program…not really… you are paying for whatever was free through the services you pay for. Someone give you something with no strings attached, so it’s free…not really… whoever gave it to you paid for it. The examples are endless; somebody is paying for what you think is free. Sometime it’s you paying for it, sometimes it someone else. But in the end, nothing is free, someone is paying the price. Oh, that free lunch… it was paid for by tax paying citizens.

Whenever, the government provides a benefit or service to someone, it is the citizens of that government that pays for it. The taxes paid by the citizens of America are what are funding the various and sundry social services programs that many enjoy. So just because the beneficiary of the social services isn’t footing the bill doesn’t mean it’s free… someone is paying for it!

This is where the first of many rubs I have come into play. Many, though not all, people that are receiving the benefit do not appreciate that someone else is financing their social benefit. It is lost on many of their consciences that what they are getting is not free, hard-working and often times struggling families that pay their taxes are providing the financial resources used to fund the social services their receiving.

I am not opposed to social services support for families and individuals that need them. (I will touch on this too in just a bit) But those receiving the benefits, should appreciate those who are providing them by respecting and not abusing their benefits. Use the benefits for their intended purposes and not more than you need. It is selfish for beneficiaries to abuse the programs and take away resources from others who may genuinely need them or needlessly extract resources from those funding these programs that could otherwise be used for their own families.

This brings me to my next rub, who is receiving the benefits. It irks me to no end to see well abled bodied individuals receiving disability payments. They seemingly are all jacked up when it comes time to be evaluated, but remarkably recover when they want to do something or go somewhere with friends or family. Are you kidding me! Or those who are receiving unemployment benefits because they can’t find a job, but they only apply for jobs they know they are very unlikely to get. C’mon! To add insult to injury, many receive multiple benefits when they shouldn’t receive any.

Those receiving benefits should be restricted to those that really need them. If someone has a legitimate and debilitating mental or physical disability that limits or prohibits their ability to provide for themself, these are the individuals that our society should support with social services. These individuals should not have to live in poverty. They should be afforded a standard of living that keeps their dignity intact and demonstrates a value for their humanity. There are some that have been afflicted with a mental or physical illness that limits their income earning potential, but they can contribute to society and earn some income. I support in these cases subsidizing their income and benefits so again they can live at an acceptable standard of living. In many cases these individuals demonstrate more courage, strength and Christian ethics than do others more capable and less willing.

In other cases, there may be a need for short term or limited support. If you are injured, your benefits should be limited to the time it takes you to recover from your injury. If you are the unfortunate casualty of an economic downturn, you should receive limited benefits for a limited time. I don’t think it’s beneficial for an individual or family to be financially ruined or destitute because of a short lived situation. Because someone lost their job, they shouldn’t lose their home, etc. simply because it took them a month or two to find another job. Sure, we should have cash reserves, an emergency fund, etc. But we should also have access to short term support from the funds we contribute in our taxes to benefit others.

I do believe however, that we must accept responsibility and be accountable for the situations we find ourselves in. For example, if we unexpectedly have an event which creates a financial hardship that we were not financially prepared for, we have to take ownership of the consequences of not being prepared. And while we may receive some social benefits, we also have an obligation to adjust our lifestyle accordingly. Eating out may be a privilege we can no longer afford. Shopping at Thrift or other second hand stores may have to replace department stores and the mall.

I am a proponent of limited benefits, both in terms of time and value. I do not support giving benefits indefinitely, with very few exceptions. Nor do I support providing benefits beyond what is necessary to provide for life essentials. It is insulting to the tax payer to have those benefiting from their tax contributions, eating and living a standard of life better than what they can afford. That just doesn’t make sense to me. How can someone who is in need of assistance afford to eat and live better than those busting their rumps to take care of their responsibilities?

I firmly believe when you take away or limit safety nets, people behave more prudently or cautiously. The quality of decisions improves when we realize we are going to have to live with the full force of the outcomes of those decisions. People will not be a flipped about their jobs or do things that may result in their termination if they realize the loss of the job may not be subsidized as much as they would like through unemployment benefits. Financial discretion will improve if people realize they are not going to get cash benefits for as long as they hoped if faced with an unforeseen event.

Social services are there to be a bridge of sorts over troubled water. There are going to be times and circumstances in people’s lives where they may be in need of assistance for a short time. That can be because of an unexpected loss in the family of a primary income earner, economic downturn resulting in lost or reduced employment, an illness or injury that restricts the ability to earn an income, etc. It is not intended to be a surrogate for working and doing what’s necessary to provide for yourself or your family. Sadly, for many this is precisely what it has become. Instead of working or pursuing entrepreneurial interest, they have chosen to manipulate the system to gain access to benefits that they do not need.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Just because you can get or qualify for benefits doesn’t mean that you should. It is impossible for any government to filter perfectly every request for benefits it receives. In spite of their best efforts, there are going to be loop holes on both sides. There are going to be some who should qualify that don’t and there are going to be some who do qualify that shouldn’t.

Again, let me reiterate, I am not opposed to social services programs, what I am opposed to is the wanton abuse that takes place by those leeching benefits that they do not need. I find it especially distasteful when Christians are included in those that are leeching the system for benefits they should not qualify to receive. You discredit yourself, your faith and your God when you behave and carry yourself in such a desperate and lazy fashion.

It doesn’t matter what justifications are offered, the simple fact is that if you can take care of yourself, then you should! Some people feel that because they are a minority and their ancestors suffered through slavery and other egregious forms of mistreatment that somehow they are owed or entitled something by the government. Others buy into conspiracy theories and believe they are somehow being oppressed by “the man” (whoever that is) and that manipulating social services is the only way they can make it. Still there are others that are flat out lazy and simply don’t want to work.

Sad but true, churches across the country are filled with people who have rationalized or justified in their minds why they should take what someone else has earned and benefit from it. They testify about it proudly during church services. They laughingly share tips and tricks with others either already engaged in this unethical behavior or even worse try to entice and lure others in. They run, shout, sing, etc. oblivious to the shame they bring to themselves, their faith and our God.

Instead of celebrating this condition, we should educate our congregations and inspire them to higher and better attainment in their lives. The Christian ethic requires us to contribute to the benefit of our society and community. We should not look to take, but to give. If we do not provide for our families when we are able to do so, we are worse than non-believers. If we do not contribute to our society and communities, then we shouldn’t benefit from them either.

As Christians, we should be leading the charge and setting the example for society to follow. We should be of the greatest personal integrity and character. If we find ourselves in need of social assistance, we should be busting our tails to get off of it and back on our own feet. God has given us everything that we need to succeed in life, including favor with man when we need it. We should have a sense of personal and Spiritual pride knowing that we are contributing to the betterment of society and are not the source of its draining.

Our children, neighbors, co-workers, fellow Christians, etc. should witness our work ethic and be inspired to emulate what they see and admire in us. And we should not encourage, justify or support in any way those we know are capable of more or better and are choosing not to do so. It is not good for them or for the faith.

Christians should not be dependent on government for their subsistence. To whomever you are dependent is to whom you have relinquished control of your life. If you are dependent upon government, you have handed over control of your life to the government. If you depend upon another person, that person can control and manipulate you through the support they provide that you are dependent upon.

For the Christian, we should only be dependent upon God to provide all that we need in life. This does not abdicate us from our responsibility to be responsible and handle our business. We must do all that we can to take care of ourselves and our families, but in the end accept that after we have done all we can, instead of turning to government, family or other people, God will be sure we get access to what we need. Truth of the matter is that if we truly do all we can and utilize what God has already provided or imparted in our lives, we will have very few if any occasions to have to reach out to anyone or anything else.

We can and should do better. Let’s make it a point to blaze the trail and get off the governments social services and onto our own two feet the way God intended!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

What ever happened to being polite

What ever happened to being polite, courteous, kind, and friendly? Since when has being rude and obnoxious become vogue and the in thing? I am absolutely amazed and appalled at how inconsiderate, insensitive and callous so many people have become. And what’s worse is many of them somehow find their behavior funny and don’t care how those impacted by their comments are made to feel. Since when is getting a cheap laugh by insulting someone now socially acceptable behavior?

A lot of people like to kid around and make jokes about other people. Often the jokes are about things that a person cannot change about themselves like a physical feature. I’m all for having fun and laughing, but not at others expense. And far too often, even if the joking is consensual between friends, those that regularly engage in this kind of foolish jesting usually don’t know how to turn it off. So they are insensitive and callous in their remarks and attitudes towards those with whom they don’t have the implied consent to tease.

What does talking about people really accomplish other than creating unnecessary drama, hurt feelings and spreading negativity? And will someone please explain to me how talking negatively about someone to their face is somehow better than talking about them behind their back? As if the comments hurled with destructive intent, is better when delivered directly to the source of the venom (in their face), than for it to ultimately get back to them after having circulated through the community of nay sayers and gossip taxis (behind their back). Like, because they were the source, that softens the blow of their self-righteous opinionated comments? I don’t get it?!

Oh and of course those that proliferate this sort of thing are your loudest and most visceral “Christians”. What kind of witness is that? So is that what Christianity has become? Groups of selfish, condescending, judgmental, ever critical circle of social self-appointed elites, who have been issued a self-generated mandate to critique, evaluate and comment on all things societal? Give me a break! I happen to know Christians are far better than that and that many times it’s just a few immature and unchallenged of us that leave that impression for those outside of our community. What a shame… we are so much better than that!

Too many of us however, are truly selfish and self-centered, only thinking about what’s in it for me and rarely, if ever, giving thought to anyone else. Our Country’s financial debt problem is just one of the many examples of this me first, me only mentality. We have incurred so much debt as a country because we want everything now and who cares about future generations or the next group of politicians that has to take over and deal with this mess. Republican, Democrat, Independent, Tea Party, etc. it doesn’t matter; all of us share some culpability. Either because of our direct participation and contributions to the debt crisis or because of our wanton neglect and silence in the matter. We should demand better of ourselves and our fellow countrymen.

Because of our selfishness and unwillingness to exercise discipline and curtail our spending we are creating and making worse a financial crisis that will be passed on to our children and grandchildren. Instead of leaving them with an inheritance and positioning them to be burden free to live lives greater than our own, we are spending and living lavishly at their expense. A reverse inheritance of sorts. We are better than this!

Many of us have fallen into the trap of self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish attitudes which manifests itself in the way we conduct ourselves. Simple tasks like walking in crowded places, how often do you see people cut someone off or just bow guard their way through the crowd without regard for others or even giving a courteous “pardon me”? Certainly, there may be times when aggression and assertiveness are appropriate, but was any consideration given to the others in the crowd?

Two people arrive at a parking spot at the same time; is there ever preference given to the stranger in the other car? Or are we always the one in the hurry without time to show some kindness? Have we become that weak, that we can’t walk the extra few feet it will cost us to be courteous to the other driver? Ever notice those drivers, that when they see someone turn on their turn signal, they speed up to make them merge into the line behind them? Are we that unorganized and unprepared that we cannot afford those few mille-seconds to show kindness?

How about holding the door open and waiting until the person coming in the door behind you makes it through the door before you let it close or are you oblivious to anyone else and just let the door close behind you and in the face of the other patron. I guess you wouldn’t know would you? You are oblivious to anyone other than yourself. The examples of insensitive selfishness are limitless and unfortunately abound in our current society.

Lost in all of this is the fact that the individual we were being rude, insensitive and callous to is a potential soul for the Kingdom. Our offensive behavior has the potential of compromising our ability to witness and win someone to the faith. How tragic it would be if the difference between someone being saved and lost was how we treated them in that chance encounter we had with them in a parking lot, grocery store, doctors office… church bathroom! I don’t believe God would allow something that trivial to stand in the way of something that significant, He would find another more suitable source. However, I do believe we will be held accountable for how we treat people.

I really feel for those who work in the service industry (restaurants, retail, flight attendants, call center reps, etc.) and have to interact with the general public…OMG! People can be flat out rude and nasty! It’s ridiculous how some people treat those in the service industry and then have the audacity to think they have that right. And never mind the golden rule; God forbid that they would be treated and talked to in the same manner in which they treat and talk to others. It would be a full on, knock-down, drag out ending in a flurry of ugliness.

True, I’ve seen it on both sides from customers and employees and there is no excuse for either. But if you have ever worked as a service employee you know the verbal abuse endured by many of these individuals and the onslaught of insults that are far too often hurled at them. They are called everything from stupid to thieves to expletives unfit for me to quote here. That just isn’t right under any circumstances.

I make it a point to try to be as polite and kind to people as I can. Especially to those in service industries, but it is generally just the way I choose to carry myself. I give thought and consideration to other people. I want to be the bright spot in their day. When they have an interaction with me, I want them to walk away from that experience in a better mood, better frame of mind, with a better attitude than before our paths crossed. Bitterness, maliciousness, chronic cynicism and the like have no place in my life.

That is the example I see in Jesus more often than not. Sure, there was the occasion when He had to turn over tables, rebuke someone or call people out. But you will take note that was when those He interacted with were rude, belligerent, condescending and simply not nice people.

For the most part, Jesus was a friendly sort of guy. Children loved Him. Those who messed up found compassionate consideration with Him. People generally wanted to just hang around Jesus… I think a lot of that was because He was a nice guy. I’m sure there were some that were looking for something from Him, but those were the exception and not the rule. And so what if they were looking for something from Him. Jesus wasn’t rude to them, even when He spoke the truth about their motives for hanging around. You can speak the truth without being rude and in fact we are instructed in the Bible to speak the truth in love.

I try to offer a hand when I can. It’s not always the big things either. In fact more often than not it’s the little things that make the big difference. As a passenger on the plane, I will often offer to hold the bag that has all of the props the flight attendants use for their safety demonstrations. I don’t have to do that and they almost never ask. And honestly, they shouldn’t have to. I see that it would help them and I’m in a position to do it, so I volunteer. That little assistance can have a large impact.

If someone drops something, I bend over and pick it up for them and hand it to them. Not because I have to, but because it will help them. And I don’t have to wait until they ask. If I see they can use a hand, and I have a hand that they can use, I offer it. That’s just common courtesy and kindness…not so common I’m afraid.

These little selfless acts demonstrate kindness and consideration for others. How about saying “Thank you” when someone does something for you instead of sitting there with an entitlement attitude of “I paid for it, that’s what they’re supposed to do”. That’s just being polite. Or how about an “excuse me” if you accidently bump into someone, instead of looking at them crazy as if it is their fault and making a scene. And who cares if it is their fault, why not just say excuse me anyway and smile it away… No harm, no foul. Why is it so important to prove it was their fault and giving them attitude for it? That’s just rude!

We are taught in scripture to be kind and to look for opportunities to be helpful and do good things for people, especially to those of like faith. I applaud those of us who take this admonishment seriously and proactively look for opportunities to do good for someone else. Without the need for recognition or looking for some personal benefit to come back to you. But simply because it was the right thing to do and it would help someone else. Kudos to you… keep it up!

These are true acts of charity. The sort of which I hope to see more of in the world and resonating from our churches. Instead of laughing at someone’s crude behavior, how about a stern rebuke and an admonishment that we can and should be better than that. I am always overjoyed when I see kindness and consideration prevail amongst those of the faith. I am especially pleased when I see someone demonstrate meekness and continue to show kindness even when they are wronged. What a sign of spiritual strength, confidence and maturity to be able to behave that way.

We should be confronted and challenged to eradicate the nastiness from our mouths and behavior in general and bound forward with humility, grace and class by showing kindness, care and consideration for one another. Time out for insults, insensitivity and callousness. Those who are determined to continue with this kind of unacceptable behavior should be made to feel as if their behavior is unacceptable and need to know it will not tolerated. It’s not cute, it’s not funny and it’s not going to be tolerated. We are better than that!

As an alternative, what if we strived to be low maintenance, easy to please, the source of help and encouragement? We would instantly become more of a pleasure to be around and bring more pleasure to those around us. Stop frowning at people, smile! Try having a nice genuine smile and saying something polite or kind in small talk while waiting in a line.

What if we preferred others to benefit over ourselves? What if we let someone else get the better seat, the closer parking spot, that spot in front of us in line? What do you think the outcome would be if we were understanding towards someone who made a mistake or gracious in our times of victory?

Try being nice, no matter what and keep that smile on your face. Some people have a way of just brightening up a room the moment they enter in. One of the Alaska Airlines flight attendants working my flight from Honolulu to Seattle named Tracie is that way. From the moment she came into view in the boarding area and throughout our entire flight, she has been nothing but a warm, genuine smile offering soft spoken words of kindness, reinforced with unsolicited gestures of thoughtfulness. I don’t know if she is a Christian, but I do know she carries herself in much the way I would like to see more Christians carry themselves.

What a great example Tracie is setting for all of those she encounters; from her co-workers to her family to her passengers. You can’t help but notice how nice, friendly and polite she is and it have some positive effect on you. We all have an opportunity to set such an example and impart into the lives of others. Instead of encouraging the proliferation of callousness through our affirmations of insensitivity, let’s be role models of kind-heartedness by our dogged determination to bring joy and pleasant experiences to humanity.

So with this blog post, I aim to challenge, confront and otherwise inspire you to be better and to demand better of those around you. Refuse to be the source of mean spirited nastiness and don’t tolerate that sort of behavior in your circles of influence. Make it a point to proactively look for opportunities to be polite, nice, kind, gracious, friendly towards those around you. In doing so, you will make your community an improved place.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Welcome to the Shepherd's Heart blog. This is the personal blog of Michael H. Miller, Sr. Pastor and Founder of Grace & Truth Apostoilic Ministries (GTAM) in Kent, WA. This will be the medium that Pastor Miller uses to share his personal thoughts on everything from current political events, sports, social topics, Biblical questions and more.

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