Everyone is Part of the Healthcare Problem, and Everyone is Part of the Solution

Healthcare is like the weather. Everyone is talking about it, but no one is doing anything about it. One of the reasons no one is engaging this issue in a meaningful way is because of the simple truth that solving the healthcare issue is hard. Just ask Congress.

The Middle Tennessee Initiative has a healthcare component. In church history, healthcare has a been one of the most effective ways the church has engaged the culture around them. So, we’re looking for ways for us to identify pockets of underserved or neglected areas where our ministry might be useful. Believe it or not, despite all of the healthcare companies in Nashville, there are still people around who don’t have access to appropriate healthcare.

So, during my sabbatical I did some research on where our church might best plug in, and here’s what I found out: 40% of all healthcare costs are lifestyle related.

40%!

Almost half of all healthcare expenditures result from poor lifestyle choices. Smoking (23% of all adults in Tennessee smoke), addiction (opioids and alcohol are devastating rural Tennessee), and wait for it…obesity.

Obesity has now overtaken smoking as the number one healthcare issue in Tennessee.

I’m a Southern Baptist. I’ve always been a Southern Baptists, and I know this about Southern Baptists: we love our casseroles. We don’t smoke. We don’t drink. We eat and eat and eat. Most Southern Baptist are overweight, and there are consequences to our addiction to food.

Hips give out. Knees will have to be replaced. Diabetes and congestive heart issues damage our bodies and limit our lives.

Believe it or not, one of the best ways we can make a positive impact in the healthcare debate is to take care of our own bodies. Pay attention to your nutrition. Get some exercise. Lose weight if you need to, and get healthy. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Don’t treat this temple with disrespect or neglect. Take the next steps you need to take in order to get your body to the place where you can serve Christ with your full and best energy.

After all, it doesn’t do a whole lot of good to love the world with a great heart if your body can’t get you to the places where you need to serve.

A Lot of Little Steps

Most problems are difficult and complex. You can’t solve one problem without having to solve three others first. So it goes. We try to do one thing, and we end up trapped in a web of other problems that we didn’t even see at the outset of our efforts. Most of the time, we become overwhelmed by the complexities of the situation.

Think about it. Want to do something about education in our country? Where do you start? College? High school or middle school? Elementary school or kindergarten? Or do you start earlier with pre-K?

Or think about healthcare. There have been a lot of smart people trying to figure out that one for a long time. What makes us think we can do anything that’s really going to matter?

And I’ve just mentioned a couple obvious ones. I haven’t gotten to world hunger, world peace, the need for fresh water, epidemics and pandemics, economic inequality, immigration, racism, or violent crime. What’s wrong with our world is so overwhelming that most of us look at the challenges, give up, and do nothing.

The crime isn’t that we try and fail. The crime is most of us never try at all. Because we never try, nothing ever gets solved.

So, what are you supposed to do in those moments when you’re overwhelmed by the circumstances in front of you?

First, take a step back. Sometimes problems look bigger than they are because we’re standing too close to them. Give yourself a little space.

Second, say a prayer for courage, wisdom, and persistence. Sure, it’s going to be hard. If was easy, someone else would have already done it.

Third, pick a place and start. Big problems are nothing more than a lot of little problems all in the same place. Don’t try to solve everything all at once. Just do the next thing you know to do. Piece by piece, step by step, stay steady, and stay at it. You’ll be surprised at how much you actually get done by simply staying with the process. The longest journey is nothing more than a lot of little steps put one after the other.

Fourth, don’t give up. It took Edison several hundred tries to finally end up with the light bulb. One of the interesting things I’ve found out since moving to Nashville is how long it takes to become an overnight success.

Yep, life’s hard, and no, there are no guarantees you won’t fail.

But you’ll never know until you take the first step.

Living in Like

You should see the looks I get from a newly engaged couple when I asked them, “Do you like each other?” They will look at each other, and then look back at me. One of them will say, “We’ve got more than ‘like.’ We love each other.”

That’s great, I tell them, but that doesn’t answer my question. “Do you like each other?”

Here’s why that’s important: you live most of your married life in “like.” Sure, there are lots of moments that overflow in passion and feelings only poets can describe, but those moments hardly make up most of your life together.

Most of your life is spent doing normal things—taking care of the kids, doing chores around the house, going to the gym, and cleaning up the kitchen. And while you’re doing these things, the person you’re married to is there all of the time.

You’d better marry somebody you like.

Do you have enough in common to make conversations easy?
Do you have enough differences to make conversations interesting?
Do you have a common worldview about life and what matters in life?
Do you have a good mix of adventure and good ol’ common sense to make life fun, but not destructive?
Can you have fun when it’s just the two of you, regardless of the situation?

Yep, the romantic moments are great—when the candles are lit and the violins are playing in the background—but those moments are like great desserts. They taste great, but they are filled with sugar.

The meat and potatoes of marriage are those moments when you’re laughing at each other because the baby just threw up on both of you or how ridiculous you both look trying to clean up the bathroom after the toilet overflowed.

Those are the moments that hold you together. Those are the moments that you remember—the moments you realize how much you like each other and fall in love all over again.

Can These Bones Live?

Since I work in a church, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn I love church buildings. I especially love old church sanctuaries, and honestly, the older the better. My wife is always surprised (although she’s growing used to it) when we go on vacation, and I want to walk through any churches we might be passing by. There is something about the craftsmanship in the old wood and the fire bright beauty of the sun coming through the stained glass windows that fills me with awe and worship.

So, again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I get really emotional when I see a church building with a “For Sale” sign in front of it. Now, I understand, all kinds of things happen. The growth patterns of cities change. Traffic patterns are rerouted and communities go through transition. I get it. I also understand that churches move. They sell one piece of property and relocate to another space. Brentwood Baptist did that back in 2002.

I understand life happens, but more and more in our nation, churches are just closing. They are going out of business. On any given day, it’s not unusual to see an article about how a developer has bought an old church building with plans to turn the once sacred facility into condos or a restaurant. Too many times, a small and struggling group of church members decides, for whatever reason, they can’t make a go of it, and they vote to close the doors of the church and sell the building.

Now, let me get this straight…the building is being sold by a group of people who are sure no one will come to their building, and it’s being bought by a group of people who are sure a lot of people will come to the building if there’s something new in the building.

Why can’t the church be that something new in the building?

There’s a reason Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream. Not everyone likes the same flavor. In the same way, not everyone likes the same style of worship, the same emphasis of service and mission, or the same process of discipleship. There are a lot of different kinds of people, and there needs to be a lot of different churches to meet the different needs of these people. One size doesn’t fit all. It never has.

Now, this may mean there’s a Caucasian church that’s now surrounded by a Hispanic community. An African-American church that finds itself in the middle of a Kurdish community—the variations and challenges are endless. If a church can be given the support and assistance to reevaluate its mission in light of its changing community, a lot of good things can happen. You may not be able to put new wine into old wineskins, but you can put a new church in an old building.

There are several advantages to this approach:

  1. The members of the original church can see their church thriving and effective. It’s a different future than they had once imagined, but it’s still a great future to be part of.
  2. The old building can be refurbished and remodeled for pennies on the dollar when compared to the cost of new construction.
  3. Most of the time, the new church can avoid politically charged issues with the surrounding communities, codes, and city hall.
  4. The neighborhood is genuinely interested to see something new going on in the church.

In the famous Bible story of the Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37), God asked the prophet Ezekiel if the dry bones could live. Of course, Ezekiel soon found out the bones could indeed live. It’s the story I think about every time I see a church building for sale. Can these bones live? I answer the same way Ezekiel did, “Yes, they can!”