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.

What if You’re Already There?

For some reason, most of us grow up thinking that all of the good stuff happens somewhere else. I grew up in Huntsville, and when I was in Huntsville, everything was happening in Birmingham. When I went to school in Birmingham, all of the good stuff had moved to Atlanta.

Why is it that the good stuff is always happening somewhere else?

Maybe it’s not. Let’s face it. We’re all creatures of habit. We drive the same way to work, take the same elevator to our office, and buy our coffee at the same shop. Because we’re doing these things out of habit, we don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around us.

For instance, the waitress at your favorite restaurant—what’s her name?
Your bank tellers—what are their names?
The clerks at your dry cleaners—do you know their names?

See what I mean? We have all kinds of people around us every day. We just don’t see them. We don’t pay attention to them. We don’t recognize the circumstances around us where God is working. We just aren’t that aware.

So, what if?
What if you’re already at the place God wants you to be?
What if you already know the people God wants you to reach?

What if you’re already there—but you just don’t see it?

Living sent means being aware of where you are and who’s around you. Who knows? You might already be exactly where God wants you to be.

When Matthew 25 Scares You to Death

For several years, our church has had a partnership with John Thomas and Living Hope in Cape Town, South Africa. For those of you who may not be familiar with the ministry, I urge you to take some time and look over their website. To say it’s inspiring is an understatement.

Anyway, over the years, John and I have become pretty good friends and so, a few years ago, I flew down to see him. John had been begging me for years to come, and I really did want to see the work.

But I had another agenda. I wanted to know how a church 1/3 the size of the one I serve could start and sustain a ministry like Living Hope that is literally impacting the world and how HIV/AIDS is addressed in communities and the church. Now, I know you’re thinking I’ve overly hyped their ministry, but I haven’t. When you’re invited to the President’s office to talk about your work, as John was, you’re making an impact.

So, over dinner, I asked him, “How did you do it?” His answer? “Matthew 25 scared me to death. I could just see myself standing in front of Jesus, and Jesus saying to me, ‘John, you did well with that little church I gave you, but what about the thousands of people who are dying in Masiphumelele across the street?’”

In case you don’t remember, these are the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:

31“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat;

I was thirsty

and you gave Me something to drink;

I was a stranger and you took Me in;

    36I was naked and you clothed Me;

I was sick and you took care of Me;

I was in prison and you visited Me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

40“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!

42For I was hungry

and you gave Me nothing to eat;

I was thirsty

and you gave Me nothing to drink;

43I was a stranger

and you didn’t take Me in;

I was naked

and you didn’t clothe Me,

sick and in prison

and you didn’t take care of Me.’

44“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’

45“Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’

46“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus was pretty blunt in His teachings. If you love Him, you’ll care for the neediest around you. That’s why people like Mother Teresa get so much attention. Everyone in the world, believer and unbeliever, knows these words, knows what they mean, and recognizes the real deal when they see it. John Thomas is the real deal.

I’m trying. I guess we all are. With so much hurt and brokenness in the world, it’s hard to figure out where to start. Refugees by the thousands are trying to escape the battlefields in the Middle East. Thousands are trying to get into our nation from countries to the south of us. And that’s just the obvious hurt and pain. Go down any street. Go into any city. You’ll see the same heartbreak. Homelessness, addiction, crippling poverty—it’s overwhelming. Where do you even start?

Right where you are. If someone is hungry, feed them. If they’re thirsty, give them something to eat. Jesus doesn’t make anything about how the person got into the shape they’re in. He doesn’t talk about blame or fault. He talks about people in need and our obligation to respond. It’s the reason poverty, healthcare, and education are cornerstone ministries of the Middle Tennessee Initiative. In our cynical world, people won’t listen to our message until they see our ministry. People are still looking for the real deal, and they know it when they see it.

I know there’s a lot of debating going on about refugees and border security. Of course, a nation has the right and the responsibility to protect its citizens and borders. There are responsibilities given to governments by God.

But I’m not a politician. I’m a pastor. And like John Thomas, I’m sitting in the middle of thousands of people who are hurting.

And Matthew 25 scares me to death.