(This is the third article in a series on poverty. If you missed the previous two, please back up a few weeks and read those posts.)
What does poverty look like around the world?
Before we get any further, let me clarify some terminology. It turns out that sociologists use the terms absolute poverty and relative poverty, and it’s important to know the difference. According to the UNESCO website,
Absolute poverty measures poverty in relation to the amount of money necessary to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The concept of absolute poverty is not concerned with broader quality of life issues or with the overall level of inequality in society. The concept therefore fails to recognise that individuals have important social and cultural needs. This, and similar criticisms, led to the development of the concept of relative poverty. Relative poverty defines poverty in relation to the economic status of other members of the society: people are poor if they fall below prevailing standards of living in a given societal context.
Most people ask that question at some point in their lives. Some believe the answer is random chance—that there is no purpose to the universe. Others, including those who believe in a Christian God, answer that God created us for His purposes. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” with the answer being, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
This past week I was reading through Isaiah when I came to chapter 43. I think that Isaiah 43:1 – 7 is my favorite passage in the entire Bible. (Read these verses and think about how much God loves you.)
Pete and I have spent much of the last week and a half in emergency rooms and hospitals. After years of gradual decline, my 91-year-old dad took a sudden nosedive. He’d been enjoying his new living arrangement, going to the hall parties, filling up on his favorite foods, smiling a lot. Then one day we went to see him and he was curled up on his bed refusing to get up. In spite of bed trays and persuasive nurses, he refused to eat or drink. Then he fell… and fell again, hitting his head.
While we’ve been anticipating this point for years, it was still a bit of a shock. Suddenly Pete and I were faced with huge decisions. Rather than create an advanced directive, where every possibility is considered and plans decided ahead of time, my dad had assigned the two of us joint “durable medical power of attorney.” The idea was that, knowing my dad and his end-of-life preferences, we would be able to flex according to the circumstances.
I don’t have a purpose-driven life.
Yes, I know God made me. And I know He has a wonderful plan for my life. It’s just that He has never shared that plan with me.
I’ve written on this topic before. I’m revisiting today because I have suddenly realized that it no longer bothers me.
Pete and I are currently attending a staff retreat for the mission group we’re associated with. It’s a wonderful time of connecting with the 45 or so associates who form Paraclete, a group of experienced missionaries and professionals who come alongside various churches and mission organizations. In some cases, both spouses are “associates” of Paraclete. In our case, I’m the spouse of an associate.
Raise your hands… how many of you want to be significant?
Everybody, right? We all want to “make a difference.” We all want our lives to count for something. As Matt, over at TheChurchOfNoPeople.com recently wrote, “We still hold onto the hope that we have a lot of potential, but the reality of the day-to-day is we’re desperately short on purpose.”
Those of us in the church are under even more pressure—we don’t need just any purpose. We need to fulfill God’s purpose! Over and over we’re told that God has a wonderful plan for our lives, that He made us for a specific reason, and it’s up to us to discover what that is and live it out.
I know I’ve certainly struggled with this issue.
Today is my 200th post! That’s pretty amazing, a tribute to God’s faithfulness, and an unimaginable milestone when I first started this blog almost two years ago.
To celebrate, I’m taking the day off. Don’t worry, though. I won’t leave you with nothing to read. A wonderful person I know posted this on her birthday last year. I was so impressed, I asked to re-post it here, and she graciously granted permission. I hope we all take Jenny’s perspective to heart. Please check out her blog, “Life.Faith.Travel,” for more inspired writing.
It is my opinion that the day of one’s birthday is the single greatest day of importance in any individual’s year. Perhaps that is a strong opinion, but what other day can you better acknowledge the value and importance of a person than on the day of their birth?
Think on this: the world changes because of someone’s existence. And if you know that someone, it changes your world. Think of your closest friends or family members. Who would you be without them in your life? What would be different? How might your life perceptions vary? The simple notion that someone you know exists with purpose can change the whole way in which we celebrate the day of one’s birth: The biggest day of their life!
Bucket lists seem to be proliferating everywhere. There are ones you can buy (1,000 Places to See Before You Die, for example) and ones you make yourself. A quick web search turned up some pretty comprehensive lists of ideas ranging from places to go, books to read, and adventures to have, to financial and material success, skills to learn, and career ambitions.
Most bucket lists contain goals like visiting the Taj Mahal, going backpacking in Yosemite, or seeing a solar eclipse—or we write down our hope to earn a college degree, get married and have kids. Those are great things to aspire to. In fact, I’ve already checked all of them off my own list, and I recommend them highly!
Most people make their list by consulting themselves. They may get inspiration from other sources—friends, books, websites, etc.—but ultimately, they decide what they want to do with their lives. As followers of Christ, we need to come at making a bucket list from a different perspective. After all, we are not our own. We have traded everything we are for the surpassing value of Jesus (Philippians 3:8). We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Are you happy with your life? Are you blessed? Are you pursuing the American Dream of a good job, a nice family, and a home filled with everything you need, and a bit more beside?
Even with the economy the way it is, most of us still hope that things will improve in the future—that we’ll someday be able to have that house-with-the-picket-fence and all the trimmings.
We love to read verses such as “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and He adds no trouble to it” (Proverbs 10:22) and, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). We hear sermons about verses like this; we repeat them to others. As God’s children, we delight in the truth that they apply to us.
But what about some other verses…
Lately, instead of blogging about being “Mom,” I got to be “Mom.” Our son-in-law’s brother, Andrew, came to stay with us for nine days. Since I was busy enjoying his visit instead of writing, I think it only fair that I let him be the guest blogger this week. Here are his thoughts, inspired by his flight from Phoenix to Denver:
I’d missed the metaphor the first half-dozen times I’d flown over Colorado. Somehow it had been staring me in the face for years, but it didn’t click until Thursday afternoon. Waking from a nap as we approached Denver International Airport, I glanced out the window of the plane just in time to see the wings tear free of the thick cloud cover obscuring the ground beneath me. From above the earth looked like a patchwork quilt sewn in agriculture, geometric and surgically precise. To the East, as far as I could see, there were squares, rectangles and “Utahs,” divided neatly from one another by rigid boundaries marking one territory’s end and the beginning of the next. From the ground one would never realize that the state had been so neatly segregated, but from my perspective it was equally difficult to perceive it simply as a whole.