Your God Given Choice

As I’ve been doing research on the Middle Tennessee Initiative, I’ve come across an interesting definition of poverty.

“Poverty is the absence of choice.” I know—there’s more to poverty than this. I understand the issue of poverty is a very complicated one that has frustrated our world’s greatest minds for generations.

But this definition works for me for this reason. The experience of poverty is summed up in one simple sentence: the poor don’t have much choice.

A person of means can choose what college to attend. The poor can’t. If you have money, you can choose your doctor. The poor can’t. The poor can’t choose where they live, or what they wear, or what they drive—not like a wealthy person can.

Poverty is the absence of choice.

As a pastor, I find this definition helpful in other ways as well. A lot of us deal with addictions. We may have different drugs of choice—alcohol, sex, prescription meds, work—but they’re all abused to hide some hole in our lives. We deal with it the best way we know how, and most of the time, we deal with it badly.

Jesus came to give us a choice—an opportunity for a better way. We don’t have to respond out of anger or self-preservation. We don’t have to be driven by our greed or ambition or our need to be loved. Jesus gives us a better way.

Paul uses the image of the “old man of the flesh” and the “new man in Christ.” As Christ-followers, we’re encouraged to put off the old man of our natural desires and be transformed by putting on the person of Christ.

What happens then if there’s no desire to put on the new person of Christ? Too many of us know this answer too well. We become trapped in the needy reactions of our natural selves.

But the gospel says we don’t have to live that way. Jesus gives us a choice. Grace does indeed make us rich.

We can choose a better way.

I Believe in the Local Church

I’ve spent most of my adult life working in the local church. It has its challenges—like any job—but overall, I’m committed to the success of local congregations.

I know the local church has been the butt of a lot of jokes and nowadays it seems to be cool to leave life there so you can love Jesus more purely.

Yes, I know all about the local church. You can’t tell me anything I don’t know about it. I’ve seen it all and lived through most of it.

But, let’s think about some things.

First, what other organization on earth opens its doors and lets anyone walk in? This fact alone is enough to shut most organizations down. But the local church thrives because it.

Just let me make two quick points.

First, business leaders say decisions should be made by those closest to and most affected by the outcomes. When it comes to the real pains and hurts of life, the local church is the front line.

We’re the first place the wounded are brought to. We’re in closest proximity to the enemy. We don’t have the luxury to discuss the theories of war. Local churches are fighting it.

If you want to make a difference—a real difference—the best way to do it is to get involved in a local church. There’s only one way real change happens: life on life.

Now, here’s the second point. Jesus loves the church. If you love Jesus, you’ll love His bride. Period.

The church is an expression of the body of Christ. His incarnation continues in the villages, cities, and neighborhoods of our world. It’s the place where Jesus touches those who need Him most.

For me, the local church is where it happens and that’s why I love doing the work I do.

What about you? Does your love of Jesus show in your love for the church? How are you engaged in seeing the church become more like Christ?

Like I said, if you love Jesus, you’ll love His church.

It’s the Reason We Have Priorities

If you look at my “to-do” list for the last few days, you’ll see I haven’t gotten much done.

There’s a reason.

My mom has an acoustic neuroma that has affected her hearing and balance. She was referred to a doctor at Vanderbilt, and for the last several days we’ve been going to doctor appointments, X-rays and tests. We’ve filled out a small book of paper work and finally decided on a good plan with an excellent expectation of success.

She returned home this morning and I finally got into the office to my stack of unread mail, unanswered emails and undone tasks.

And you know what? I’m perfectly OK with this.

Why?

My mom is more important than all of this other stuff. If I didn’t call someone right back, well, they’ll just have to understand. I was taking care of my mom.

Let’s face it. Some things are just more important than other things.

The world tells us that EVERYTHING IS IMPORTANT! So important in fact, that we can’t drop anything.

Our phones have to be on.

Our tablets lit up.

We have to drive, text, surf the web and download updates, all while we’re working out and eating.

Please.

Here’s what all of us know, but few have the courage to live out.

In the end, only a handful of things are important. The rest is garbage.

We know what matters – faith, family and friends – the rest is just clutter.

So why do we have such a hard time living for what matters?

It’s because most of us never draw the hard line and say, “This is what matters to me.”

The reason we have priorities is for the moments when life makes you choose –

Do I go into the office or do I take care of my mom?

I took care of my mom. I didn’t even have to think about.

My mom is my priority. So, I’m OK being a little behind on some projects.

I took good care of my mom. And that’s what mattered.

The World is a Mess

From time to time, friends will ask me to pray they can get a new job or find a better place to live.

When I ask them why, they’ll say it’s because they’re the only Christian in their office, team or neighborhood. “It’s hard being the only Christian,” they’ll tell me. “Pray I can find a place where I’m not the only Christian.”

Then, I’ll ask them, “Is it possible Jesus has sent you to where you are to reach those people around you?”

Is it possible that working with non-believers and living in the same neighborhoods as non-believers is exactly where Jesus wants you to be?

Following Jesus is hard for at least two reasons. First, Jesus makes some pretty tough ethical demands on His followers. Loving your enemies is not for the faint of heart.

The second reason is once you’ve chosen to follow Jesus, He takes you to some pretty tough places.

He was sent to the sick and lost, remember?

The gospel begins with the bad news that sin has broken our world and everybody in it.

The good news is Christ has come to redeem us and our world.

We are on that mission with Him – to the lost, wounded, broken, confused, angry, bitter, poor, and sick.

Sometimes, these places are just tough places to be but these are the places where the love of Christ is needed most.

So, look around. Do you find yourself in the middle of a mess?

Good news. That may be exactly where Jesus wants you to be.