Wednesday, January 23, 2008

exiles in the city

i attended a men's Bible study last nite - a friend of mine - his dad, a pastor, was leading it.
the scripture reference was Jeremiah 29. of course vs. 11 is commonly known by many... it is probably frequently underlined and highlighted...

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

we looked at more than that commonly quoted verse... we looked at the context... my dad used to say 'a text taken out of context is a preftext.' (or something like that...) so with that - i discovered so much more than that oft recited verse.

if you look at Jeremiah 29:4-14 you will see the bigger picture.

God's people - they had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon... on foreign soil... amongst foreign people. what does God ask them to do?
Build houses.
Plant gardens.
Have sons & daughters.
Increase in number.

that stuff there - that is the easy stuff. but then in verse 7 - God commands something more...
Seek peace.
Seek prosperity for the city.
Pray for the city to prosper - for if it prospers, you too will prosper.

keep in mind that the people of God had been defeated by Babylon... so they were captives. and yet God asks that they pray for their captors... and pray for them to prosper.

one might conclude they were instructed to 'infiltrate' the enemy and win 'em over to Jesus!' I don't see it quite that way... there is no infiltrating... just living... among people. side by side. not us vs. them. just us.

how does this relate to my city or your city... or our state or nation or even the world?

i think God is saying to all Christians - GET OUT OF THE BUBBLE. we're so good at holing ourselves up in our own subculture 'protected' from the evils of the world. but the bubble doesn't protect us - it prevents us.

Rich Mullins - the late singer/songwriter and ragamuffin theologian once said this:
"Christianity is not about building an absolutely secure little niche in the world where you can live with your perfect little wife and your perfect little children and your beautiful little house where you have no gays or minority groups near you. Christianity is about learning to love as Jesus loved and Jesus loved the poor... and Jesus loved the broken." [July 19, 1997]

how is it that the church seclude itself from the rest of society? we are called... better yet - instructed to be a part of the culture. when the culture prospers - our mission prospers. that makes sense if you think about it.

so the challenge then - that was laid before us last nite was to pray for our cities... our communities. to be out in the community... living.

so back to the key verse that we all know and love.
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

how 'bout that. we have a hope and a future... but our 'prosperity' comes when we pray for the city. and our prosperity isn't driving Lexus' and having memberships at the country club... i'm not talking 'bout the prosperity gospel here. that's bogus... he will make us strong and we will flourish - because we will be fulfilling his will.

vs. 12 and beyond serve as a nice closer:
"When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I'll listen. "When you come looking for me, you'll find me. "Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I'll make sure you won't be disappointed." [from the Message]

we call on Him. He listens. we look. we find. and we won't be disappointed!

i have to be honest - this whole passage - about being out there amongst the non-believers and the poor and those who oppress... that kind of living has been giving me a kick in the butt lately. i am striving to be more missional in the way that i live and in the way that i lead the youth group. i pray that we would not be so self-centered... even if out of ignorance.

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