Exiles Message #2 Seek the Welfare of the City
Exiles: From Empire to Exile: Seeking the Welfare of the City
We are living in the time of the Exile. This is the 2nd in that series Exiles simply entitled: Seek the Welfare of the City. The first in this series that I have taught comes from 1 Peter 2:11. Where Peter tells his friends, “I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
We are living between two worlds. On the one hand – The dangerous contemporary western culture – one that combines Darwinian secular humanism philosophies of self-centeredness with a radical skepticism toward an intelligent Creator God. On the other – a traditional values, creationist, supernatural view of the creation with the ideology that humanity is created in the image of God.
The enemy divides and conquers – with his right hand the Secular Institutions that once were serious bastions of knowledge seekers are now being used by him to influence greater society to reject the notion of a Spiritual World. With his left hand – uses powerful media put out spiritual program with a perverted twist. You don’t have to flip far to see line up of magic, witches, vampires, from the Show “the Gates,” to “Twilight.” His very idea is to create confusion. There isn’t a spiritual world – no there is a spiritual world. Its like living in the wilderness. To truly engage our culture you and I need to learn to Live like a Missionaries in a Post-Christian World.
See lots of people seem to think there are only two options. The first is this idea of withdrawal from greater society. The second is this idea that we have to sort of take over greater society. If we withdrawal we sing – this world is not my home I am just passing through – – but when we feel like we can grab power we sing “Shine Jesus shine fill this land with the Father’s glory. This land is not my home and fill this land with the Fathers glory are the options we keeping going back and forth to. But there is a third option today that I would like to share with you that Jeremiah gave the people in which he said, “seek the welfare of the city” Pray to the Lord on its behalf because in its welfare you will find your welfare.” You’ve got to work along side of others. To use a great Mennonite phrase, we are “living in the time of God’s patience.” We have to develop the mind of patience, we need to work on the welfare of the city, work at helping others through suffering, feeding those hungry giving a piece of bread in his name, working on justice – we will see gains but also some losses but we need to also realize that in the end the final battle will only be won when Christ returns.
So lets go to Jeremiah 29. It’s a familiar passage of Scripture to many of you because it has the “I know the plans I have for you” passage that everyone quotes because it’s a feel good phrase people use without really understanding the desperate condition the people of the time heard it. So lets go there.
If you look throughout the Scriptures you will see that in both the OT and when Christians inhabited societies which had long-established convention that they were taught to embrace the tradition of sustaining and enhancing the life of the cities in which they lived. We are going to look at this paradigm today.
Story One: I pray that while our landscape may have changed we can grow in it. There is a vine that is legendary. Some have called it the Vine that ate the south. It is a transplant from Japan and it grows best in a hot, tough climate. In fact some herbicides make it grow faster but it is great for animals to eat. Its called Kudzu and it can grow as much as 1 foot a day and sixty feet a year. My prayer is that when we are transplanted like Kudzu we will grow and the city can find its welfare and rest under our branches.
During Jeremiah’s time, the people of God were living at a time when there was forced division. The political realities of their day moved them into different cities and places across the Babylonian empire. They did this so that they would become less of a risk to the current superpower of the day. In a our day where there is still freedom but yet increasing calls of the silencing of our voices the enemy would want nothing more than to isolate and disperse us. The Diaspora Jews, that is Jews spread abroad were to continue to seek the welfare of the city for 70 years, and then their return to the promised inheritance of their forefathers would be realized (Jeremiah 29:4-14). It has been shown that the treatment of the Jews in exile was no different from that experienced by other dispossessed minority groups in Babylon. What was unique was the attitude Israel was called upon to adopt – not to plot the destruction of their conquerors, but to seek their blessing. “The people are to intercede with the Lord on the behalf of the well-being of their new home.”
Today we are farther removed from our promised inheritance of the ruling and reigning of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a place but a condition – characterized by people who are righteous, God-fearing, who go out of their way to give their lives for each other, who do not turn a blind eye to the suffering of others and who not allow dishonest scales, unethical business transactions, personally gained business and civic dealings like the ones we see everyday. Let me assure you we will not be disappointed with the nature of our inheritance if we trust our God.
Even as we see the our very traditions being plotted for destructions we are called to seek their blessing. The contemporary, secular, governmental, once sacred institutions are filled with people who have not adequately heard the truth or if having heard it have not received it – either because we offered the living water conditionally or with a bitter taste. Jesus offers the Spring of Living Water to the woman at the well without string or caveat. My prayer is that they will have to crawl over our bodies to be caught in the flame. The church as an exiled people always rubs up against the powers of the world, yet it doesn’t retreat from it, it constantly seeks the peace of the kingdom within those places. The reality is that we have not been presenting the gospel effectively because we have seen it as merely an exchange of information – but when we offer the cup of life we are to offer it as our very life. Paul talks about being poured out like a drink offering. We are to be living lives of such servant hood and love to that people will know without question, it is unmistakable that we have been with Jesus.
And we’ve got to keep our convictions. Its tough to keep your convictions anchored in a culture like ours. But just like the Israelites were in a foreign land of Babylon.
So many people compromise their principles when their environment becomes a place of inconvenience for them to follow through.
So how do we do that? First we pray for our city, its leadership. And we ask to hear from God on its behalf…Many of our cities are deaf to the sound of God’s voice. We as the church are to be listening. When our cities hear from God through us it is like they like Jonathan an 8 month old baby who was deaf but by the miracle of a cochlear ear implant he hears his mothers voice for the first time and the pacifier drops out of his mouth and he begins to smile as she simply says Hi and speaks his name and his parents begin to cry. (cue video) That’s what God is calling out our cities by name. Can you imagine God calls out your city by name? You city too belongs to God. How much time of your month do you donate to a cause that isn’t going to build your kingdom but would help your city?
Second we actively work at making our life a civic life. You need to be involved in the life of your city. A lone ranger Christian is no Christian at all. You need to be a believer that gets involved it the cities affairs. Sure our church exists for God, for the Lord Jesus Christ, and for the purposes of the divine economy. But God’s intention through the Church is that the rule of King Jesus – a Kingdom where freedom from sin and guilt leads to righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit – that rule might increase and affect the lives of hurting and needy people everywhere. It is the our task, and the calling of every particular individual, to discover the needs of their neighbors and, like Jesus in that upper room, humble themselves to reach out in the love of Christ and do what they can to help. Believers have not been redeemed by good works but unto good works (Eph. 2:10); That means we aren’t saved by what we do but because we are saved we can do good works like no one else can. The Church, as the Body of Christ, should reflect in its earthly sojourn the same kind of care, giving, outreach, compassion, service, and witness that Jesus demonstrated while He was on earth. Church is now Jesus to the world, and we will not be able to fulfill that high and holy calling apart from a prayerful and consistent effort at bringing the salvation and blessings of God to the people in our communities.
Story Three: When we lived in LA, I worked for an AG church called Chapel of the Hills. And it was a rough crowd… I realized just how rough it was when one day a woman came to our church with basically nothing on. I smelled this woman before I saw her. When she arrived on the steps of our church, I was looking down at the ground, the pastor I was working for went by without batting an eye and he said to me…Dave please get this woman a t-shirt. We have some in closet. He didn’t embarrass her or send her away. See we had a homeless community of about 40 people that lived about 400 yards from the church in tents…and we wanted them to know that they too were welcome to our church. After all even Jesus himself was without a home (the Son of man has no place to lay his head) and the church was his idea…
The word welfare can’t conjure images of misuse for some but here it means peace actually, shalom – a kind of omnibus term of blessing, that means something like health, peace, prosperity, wellbeing, and salvation, all rolled into one. The Babylonians had shown nothing but scorn and violence toward Israel and her God; nevertheless, God had business to do with those people, and He intended that at least some of them should know His blessings. Ironically enough, King Nebuchadnezzar himself became a worshipper of the one true God because of the faithful, frank, and loving ministry of Daniel. As Daniel sought the welfare of the king and his court, so all the people of God were expected to do with their neighbors in every quarter of the empire.
And so we must do today. In many churches today we rejoice and are quite happy when someone finds his way to our fellowship and begins to know the blessings of salvation and new life in Christ. But waiting for people to find their way in to our fellowship is a far cry from going out of our way in seeking the welfare of our neighbors as part of our being-in-the-world in the community. In Psalm 48 the Church is pictured as the joy and beauty of the whole earth. In how many communities today are churches regarded in this way? When was the last time you did something for someone who couldn’t pay you back?
See what we don’t need our banaids or more programs whether their non-profit or government pay checks…that doesn’t work. But what does is the true intention and focused effort of the people of God getting involved.
I have a very important question to ask you today…”Do you seek the peace, the well-being, the goodness, the welfare of your city?” If the local church is the hope of the world, the local community is the place where that hope is discovered. Oh its easy to point out what’s been done wrong, that the governmental structures are incompetent, that the leadership is corrupted, but that’s not Biblical. And please understand – in many cases its truth that the cities all full of destructions, poverty, crime, and corruption. But lets not forget that it’s that age old hypocrisy that we try to hide behind spiritual language and say well we are in the world but not of the world. Then we use spiritual language to avoid personal responsibility… We are called not simply to point out broken systems but to be a light in a dark place.
Story Four: Sometimes we feel like God has abandoned our cities…
He had been hanging onto the rope for hours. Earlier that day he and Joe Simpson made the first ascent, via the almost vertical west face, to the summit of Siula Grande. Disaster struck, however, on the descent. Simpson slipped down an ice cliff and landed awkwardly, smashing his tibia into his knee joint and breaking it. The pair, whose trip had already taken longer than they intended because of bad weather on the ascent, had run out of fuel for their stove, which they needed to melt ice and snow for drinking water, and needed to descend quickly to their base camp, about 3,000 feet below. They proceeded by tying two one hundred and fifty foot-long ropes together and then tying themselves to each end. So Simon Yates did what he always seemed to do. Find a way down. So he dug himself into a hole in the snow and lowered Simpson down the mountain on the 300 feet of rope.
So there he was hanging onto to rope. Really clinging to life.
However because the two ropes were tied together, the knot wouldn’t go through the belay plate, so Simpson would have to stand on his good leg to give Yates enough slack to unclip the rope, and then thread the rope back through the lowering device, with the knot on the other side. A second disaster struck when Yates was lowering Simpson down the mountain, and lowered him off a cliff. He (Yates) was in a belay seat, much higher up the mountain, and Yates could not see or hear Simpson, but felt all his weight on the rope. Simpson could not climb up because of his broken leg, and Yates could not pull him back up as his belay seat was slowly crumbling up.
His Hands were screaming, cramping, crying for oxygen and a break. But he was still hanging on to that rope.
Simon Yates had two choices: stay in that same position and wait for the belay seat to break, which would probably have resulted in both their deaths, or he could cut the rope and then climb down to see where Simpson was. As Yates could not see Simpson, he had no idea whether he was hanging over a cliff or simply a few feet from the ground but unable to find secure footing. Yates decided that the only logical step was to cut the rope. Unfortunately, below Simpson at the bottom of the cliff was a deep crevasse, and he knew he would fall into it. When Yates cut the rope, Simpson plummeted down the cliff and into the crevasse.
The next day, Yates carried on descending the mountain by himself. When he reached the crevasse he realised the situation that Simpson had been in, and what had happened when he cut the rope. After calling for Simpson, he was forced to assume that he had died either from the fall or during the night and so continued down the mountain alone.
Simpson was, however, still alive and on a ledge inside the crevasse. He had survived a 100 ft fall, with a broken leg. When he regained consciousness, he took in the rope, and discovered the end was cut, and he realised what Simon had done. He eventually abseiled from his landing spot on an ice bridge (which broke his fall and therefore presumably saved his life) to presumably the bottom of the crevasse, a thin ice roof, and crawled out back onto the glacier via a side opening.
He was still hanging on to the rope and clinging to life.
From there, he spent three days without food and only splashes of water from melting ice, crawling and hopping five miles back to the base camp. Almost completely delusional, he reached the base camp a few hours before Yates intended to leave the camp to return to civilization. Simpson’s survival is widely regarded by mountaineers as amongst the most amazing pieces of mountaineering lore. Listen to what Simpson said:
The closers you are to death. The more you realize you are alive. The closer you are to death, the harder you cling to life.
So many people in our cities are hanging on a string over the cliff and you and I are holding the rope…if we will seek the welfare of our cities…We might be an exile. We might be between a rock and a hard place on the face of a mountain but just remember attached to you is the people of your city. Hang on to the rope, even when you can’t see them, or hear them, they are still on the other end…