A Joy for the City

I believe that the Bible teaches us something amazing: When the Gospel begins to change our lives, it WILL come out of our lives and affect others. When the Gospel takes root in your life, it has no choice but to spread into the lives of the people that are around you.

You cannot say that you hold to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not have it flow out of you into the lives of other people. Another way to put it: you cannot love God and not love others!

This is going to be the central thought for today’s post.

Jeremiah 29:4-10

Let me set up some context for you: the context of this is just after God has sent His people into exile in Babylon. This is what is telling them to do while they are there…

Vs. 4-7

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the welfare of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Notice what God is saying here! They have just been taken as a hostage by a foreign kingdom. Their families have been separated from them, their homes destroyed, their friends killed, their wives raped, their city destroyed, and belongings taken from them- and God is telling them to make a home their in Babylon. He even goes as far as to tell them to pray to the Lord for its behalf!

I want to hit on the word “welfare,” because it’s key to understanding the depth of this passage.

It’s the Hebrew word “shalom.” The word in the English means peace, but our word peace does not convey all of the meaning that Hebrew word carries with it.

The word in Hebrew carries with it this idea of peace, but God’s not just saying be at peace with these people, but the word carries with a more powerful meaning. It’s saying seek the peace and overall prosperity of the city. Seek the overall flourishing of the city.

God’s not telling them to not be mad at them not be mad at you, but I want you to go into this city and I want you to seek their welfare! Pray for their shalom, seek their shalom, seek universal flourishing.

This overall flourishing is this, not to simply go in and seek their spiritual flourishing, but seek their educational flourishing, their economic flourishing, cultural flourishing, their governmental flourishing, seek their overall flourishing!

Go into this city that I have sent you in and don’t decrease but increase. Pray for their overall welfare and seek the welfare of this city.

So what God is saying is “I want you to be a group of people that is for your city.”

Look at verse 10:

It says, “This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.”

So in other words, what God is saying here is, “I know you’re in a bad place right now, but for 70 years I want you to hang in there. I’m going to bring you home, but just do what I’m asking of you. Right now you’re in a pagan culture, in a pagan city, but while you’re there, I want you to seek their welfare.”

1 of 4 types of Churches

Truthfully, I think this impacts how we live today. I think we can be 1 of the 4 different kinds of churches in the United States today.

I think there are 4 different kinds of churches, and we are one of them, but which one are we and which one is God calling us to be.

1) Most churches fall into this category, which is a church that is simply in the city.

This means, you’re simply in your city. You’re there, you have a building, you hang out together, you love each other, you do some stuff together, maybe you even have some good community together, but your just a church that is in the city.

This church doesn’t really have any influence, it has no real effect on the city, it may be one of many, but the church is just there in the city.

2) The second, there aren’t as many of these, but there are some. In fact, I’ve worked in one, and it is actually a church that is against the city.

Have any of you been in a church that is against the city. It’s like “we’re good and their bad.”

Picture this in your head: It’s like the church people are looking down from atop a hill with a look of disgust because they think they are good and everyone else is bad- sinners!

3) The third, which is an increasing one, which is a church that is with the city.

This is the kind of church that looks so much like the city that you can’t even tell there is any difference. They look so much like the city that they’ve lost their saltiness. This church has bent so far towards the culture that they are no longer salt and light in it. They are no longer good for anything!

4) The final kind of church is a church that is for the city.

This church is not just in the city, definitely not against it, not with it, but is actually for it.

As the Gospel works in this church, the Gospel begins to come out of the church for the benefit of the city.

This church is a church that is seeking the benefit of the city in every aspect. It seeks to see the cities homelessness lessened, poverty lessened, and hate lessened. It seeks to see the cities financial status increased so that more people can be helped. It seeks to have the best education, so that people can learn and be equipped for the spread of the Gospel. It seeks to fight off personal sin and, with loving kindness, the sin in the lives of others defeated.

Moving on…

This concept is something that God has been working on in my life for some time now. God has been planting this thought and building upon it for a while now.

God has been laying this on my heart for a reason.

I’ve been thinking about the kind of pastor I want to be and the kind of group that I want to lead, and God has continually been bringing me back to this one thought- seek the “Shalom” of the city.

I don’t want to lead a ministry that is simply in the city or so much like it that there is no difference, but I want to be part of something that is solely Divine in nature. I want to be part of a ministry that is making a positive difference in the city that we live in.

Imagine

I want you to image for a minute what it would look like for a church to be for its city.

What would it look like to seek the joy of our city?

We served our city in every possible way. We sought their wellbeing.

Imagine that we served the homeless in our city selflessly.

Imagine if we gave back instead of indulging ourselves in the hard work of others.

Imagine if we actually loved the schools that God has placed around us and didn’t just seek to be at peace with them but sought their welfare!

Imagine, that we saw the needs of students in our schools and sought the Bible for the answers to their needs, then we prayed for God to help them, then we went to them and shared the Gospel to them in a way that was more than just words, but a completion of the word through good deed.

Imagine you saw a student who was struggling with their grades in a particular subject and decided to help them in their studies, so that they could see the love of God.

Imagine if you saw someone that was getting picked on and you not only befriended him, but took up for him.

Imagine if we treated authorities with respect instead of talking bad about them behind their backs.

Imagine if we saw someone with ratty clothes and you gave them some of yours, not your leftovers, but the new and unused.

Imagine if you saw someone who was unloved and you loved them the way Christ loved the church.

Imagine the difference that would make in our schools, in our community, in our city, and in ultimately in the world. Imagine the difference that would make in the life of that other person. Imagine the difference that would make in your life.

Now imagine, that if you were to leave for whatever reason, the homeless, the school systems, the teachers, the authorities, and local business owners actually grieved because you/we made such a difference in the city. That we sought after their welfare with such passion that when we were gone, our lack of presence would drastically noticed.

What would it look like to take responsibility for the city that God has placed us in? Spiritual responsibility? Social responsibility? Economical responsibility?

A question for you to answer:

Can you say that anyone in the city you live in, outside of your friends and family, would grieve if you were to leave because of the passion of your good work would be gone?

Can you say that you are making such the difference that if you were to leave, the city would notice?

Can you are doing what God called the early Jews to do? Are we as the Church seeking the welfare, the overall prosperity, of the cities that we live in?

Do people even know we are here? Do people even care?  If not, it’s not because we aren’y equipped or gifted enough, it’s because we just don’t care!

God has given us all the gifts that we could ever need! It’s our responsibility to use those gifts for His glory and the welfare of the geography that God has placed us in!

I am pleading with you, as if God were pleading through me, seek the shalom of your city!

When we see horrific things happen in the world around us, we often ask “Why does God not care?” But I can’t help but wonder if God’s not asking the same thing of us: “Why do you not care?”

Application

I believe that God let us continue here in this world of spiritual slavery for a purpose. He’s coming to get us, but while we are hear, He is calling to a task.

Are you willing to listen and obey?

If so, it’s time for us to start seeking the welfare of our city. That means long term dedication! That means hard work and persecution. That means a changed life that is being changed by the Gospel!

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Dear Galatians_ Jesus +

Introduction

Imagine that before you is a puzzle. It doesn’t take instruction or a special class to learn how to assemble this puzzle, just a good vision of the big picture. You just have to imagine what you are putting together and what it is going to be when you finish.

And when you are putting it together, the most exciting part of the whole thing is when you start to see the picture start to take shape- that moment when the few random pieces suddenly morph into a picture.

We are going to take a look at the book of Galatians in the NT. It is one of my favorite books of the Bible. God has taught me so much about the freedom that Christ offers in this book. In the book, Paul, helps the church in Galatia understand, in my opinion, the most foundational issue of Christianity.

The people of Galatia were putting the pieces of the puzzle together and they needed Paul to help them see the big picture.

Context

Let me set up some of the context of this book for you very quickly.

At the start of the Christian faith, the church consisted of a small group of people. And these people didn’t have Bibles; they didn’t have a church model; they hadn’t been to any camps or heard everything explained and outlined for them.

All they knew what that Jesus had been alive, He died on a cross, and then He rose from the dead three days later. So Paul made it his job to help these churches see the big picture- to help them figure out what this newfound faith meant for them personally.

Here we are 2,000 years after Paul’s writings to these young churches, and we think we have all the pieces in place when it comes to our faith. I think that most Christians today think they have most everything figured out. Jesus is no longer a mystery to them. Or at least they act like he’s not!

But to be honest, as much as we’d like to think we’ve got this Christian thing down, Paul is going to mess with not only the Galatians ideas, but ours too. Paul is going to assemble the puzzle for us. If you let him, he is going to teach us to see the big picture- to catch the vision of what this looks like- and then make it a reality in our lives.

Because even though we have Bibles, youth groups, devotionals, and Christian music, what we may be focusing on may not even be the right picture.

The Sad Truth

So, as the early Christian church began to grow after Jesus’ resurrection, there were big questions over what this new faith meant. There was a lot of confusion about how to live in response to Jesus. Everyone agreed on the basics: Jesus, the Cross, and the Resurrection, but beyond that there were a lot of unknowns.

When people are faced with things that are unknown, they often hold on to the things that are comfortable and familiar.

Many new followers of Jesus were converts of Judaism. And the Jewish faith was very cut and dry. Essentially, to have a relationship with God, you had to follow the Law- the commandments in the OT.

If you obeyed the Law then God would be pleased with you.

Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe, but it wasn’t easy.

What started out as guidelines for how to love God and others, grew to be a lot more complicated over the years. In fact, by the time Jesus was on the scene, the Pharisees had added so many extras to the Law that keeping all of the laws straight was nearly an impossible task.

The Law wasn’t as simple as we may think.

The Pharisees had added some pretty tricky and complicated elements to the Law, and with so much to remember, people were living under the pressure of making sure they never messed up- and thinking that when they didn’t get it right, it jeopardized their standing with God.

Even though no one did everything right and no one lived the Law out perfectly, the Law was all the Jewish believers had ever known, and they were reluctant to let go of it completely.

In Galatians

In the Book of Galatians, Paul is addressing this one big question, “How does the Law fit in with this new faith in Christ?”

You see, this was seriously important because not everyone coming to faith in Christ was Jewish, some were Gentiles! Some had no history with the Law at all! The Law meant nothing to them, and to have the Jews pushing it down their throats would have been detrimental to their new faith in Christ alone.

Paul had been away from this church for some time, and some false teachers had come into the church. These guys were teaching all sorts of crazy things about salvation and the Law.

When Paul had first come and evangelized in Galatia, the message he preached was in Christ alone is salvation found. In essence he preached that the Law could not save anyone, only Jesus could. But these false teachers had come in teaching that Jesus + the Law = Salvation.

Obviously not the same message, Paul had taught, so he decided to correct the problem via email… lol

You see, it wasn’t that the Law that was bad. In fact, the ones God set up were still very good and very valid: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t lust, obey your parents, etc. It wasn’t like it was okay to do know that Jesus had come.

But it’s what the people thought would happen by following those rules that was the issue. They thought it would make them righteous. They thought it would make them acceptable to God. They felt like what Jesus did wasn’t enough to put them in right standing before God.

The Sin Problem

Our sin separated us from God, and the Law was a way that we could interact with God. It involved rituals and sacrifices. But the funny thing about the Law was that the more you followed it, the more you realized just how sinful you were. It was a glimpse of the future to come. It paved the way to the bigger picture.

Or in other words, it was just a part of the whole puzzle.

Paul’s writing to the Galatians concerning what he had heard about the “Jesus + the Law” idea was his way of saying, “Hold on a minute! The Law is good, but it’s part of a bigger picture, it’s part of a bigger story. There’s more to it than that!”

Listen to what Paul said in 2:16, “Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the Law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the Law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the Law.” NLT

Paul couldn’t have said it any clear than that. He’s saying, “We tried living by the rules and doing everything the Law said. We tried to aim for perfect obedience, and we failed. We tried to be better, and we couldn’t cut it. But because of Jesus, we don’t have to try to be something we’re not. We are sinners- never going to be anything but sinners. All we have to do is trust in Jesus as our Messiah, as our source of righteousness.”

The Gospel is pretty simple when you look at it this way. Because of Jesus’ act on the cross alone, we are made completely right before God. Jesus is enough!

This is important!

This is most important for us to understand. Because if we decide to try to keep the Law, or if we decide that our approval from God depends on what we do and how we act, then Jesus becomes unnecessary. Paul wrote this in 2:21, “I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the Law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” NLT

Paul knew that the people were walking a very dangerous line if they continued to dictate there behavior by the Law. He knew that the more power we give the Law, the less power we give to Christ.

Our righteousness, our right standing with God, depends only on the work Christ did on our behalf, and anything we do ourselves falls short in comparison.

The Big Picture

Paul wants to help us tonight to learn what it means to follow Jesus and live according to His ways. It’s like putting the puzzle together. The idea is to get the big picture. What Paul was telling the Galatians, what he is telling us tonight, is that we are all set free by the cross. The big picture is about the cross and what Jesus did on it. Period!

Paul is writing to remind them of just how free they are, how simple Jesus’ way is. We are made right with God not because we obey the Law- but because of what Jesus did. That’s the complete picture.

A lot of people, ourselves included, feel more comfortable when we know there is a list of things we need to do in order to get the acceptance we want. We want to know there is an exact, perfect way to follow Jesus, that we need to do all the “right things” in order to find acceptance.

But sometimes we make things more complicated than they have to be. We seek out certainty at the expense of simplicity. We make the Gospel about Jesus and: the rules we think we ought to follow; and the behaviors we think are required of us; and the way we think Christians ought to live.

But in doing that, sometimes we miss the point. That is why Paul is writing to simplify it. He’s cutting through the excess, the stuff that may actually serve as a stumbling block, and getting to the heart of it all- the big picture, the relationship with Jesus.

Listen to what he says in 3:2-5, “Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the Law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? I ask you again, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the Law? Of course not! It is becaue you believe the message you heard about Christ.” NLT

Application

Do you remember what it was like when you first gave your life to Christ? The freshness in the experience? The initial response you had to your new found forgiveness?

What was it like, understanding that all of your sins were now forgiven?

It made you feel free didn’t it!? It made you feel free to be able to live clean before God and others. You could pray to the Father and didn’t have to hide because of your sin. You could do good and all of the glory was given to God. You could rely on the Spirit for help, because you knew that you couldn’t do it on your own.

It was freeing!

But something happened, didn’t it? Something that took that initial freeing feeling. You started to think things like, “there must be something more, something else?”

You started to listen to other people say things like:

In order to be a good Christian you have to…

Read your Bible twice a day.

Pray before every meal.

Go on a mission trip twice a year.

Give all of your money to the church.

Never curse.

Never think bad things.

If you do all of that, in addition to believing Jesus died on the cross for your sins, then you should be taken care of. Then you can be accepted by God.

None of these things are bad, in and of themselves. These things are even good, and can help us grow in our walk. But the problem comes when we start to think that these actions or activities make us right with God- make us more acceptable to Him.

Jesus is enough!

Let me tell you… or maybe, let me remind you of your first interaction with Christ.

What Jesus did on the Cross was enough! And the moment that we take away from that, is the moment that we strip the cross of the significance Jesus gave it.

Basically, when it comes to following Christ, were not sure if we can really trust that it’s that simple. We create miniature laws, follow arbitrary rules, and count on meaningless order to get us “right with God.” But when we do this, we aren’t that different from the Galatians.

Conclusion

Sometimes, I just can’t help but wonder why it is so hard for us to believe simply and completely in Jesus as the only way, the only means to a relationship with God. Why are we so tempted to think there is more to it when Jesus Himself, and later Paul, made it so clear that the gospel is about as simple as it gets?

Why are we so quick to assume there is more to the story? More for us to believe? To do? To accomplish? Why can’t we simply take Jesus at His word when He tells us He is enough?

For those of us who claim to be believers in Jesus, who claim to follow Him, we have to get this right. If we’re tempted to add to the gospel, to add to the simplicity of the message of Jesus, to create a law that Jesus never intended to be a qualifier for a relationship with Him, then we have a huge problem.

We can’t get hung up on the idea that if we have a quiet time at this time of the day, and go to church on these days of the week, or do any stuff, then we are good with God.

What we need to do is keep in mind this idea of the big picture- the vision behind the puzzle- and then hold loosely to the methods used to get there.

Basically, we need to remember what Jesus did for us, and then we need to remember that is enough.

The picture on this puzzle is the big picture that so many times we miss. It’s a picture of the cross of Christ.

Paul tells the church in Galatia, “Now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the Law as our guardian.” 3:25 NLT

This is good news! Jesus has come! Jesus has freed us! Jesus has made the way! Jesus is the big picture! And when we keep this in mind, when that is what we pursue, when that is what we aim for, we will find freedom every time.

Thank you for taking the time to read this rant 🙂