Serving Our City

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. - Jeremiah 29:4-7

Have you ever moved to a new city or country, or even to a different community in the same city? Think about why you moved. Do you remember weighing the options, trying to decide if it made sense financially, professionally or for your family? Did you think about the disruption the move would have on your kids, or whether you'd find a place to live that would fit your budget and your family needs? Spend just a couple of minutes recalling the reasons you decided to make the move, or perhaps the reasons you didn't make the move.

Jeremiah 29 records a letter that God had the prophet send to those Israelites who survived the Babylonian invasion in the 6th century BCE. There is a lot said in the letter, but I want to focus on verses 4-7. The Israelites are being told that they will be taken into exile to the land of Babylon. This was not good news. As if it were not bad enough that Babylon had come and destroyed Jerusalem, they were now going to carry the survivors away to a foreign and hostile land. We are so insulated in 21st century Canada that we struggle to understand the immensity of what Israel was going through. We can barely imagine a foreign nation invading Canada, over-running her major cities and military forces and then carrying away our people to their lands. In fact, just trying to imagine it happening is likely to bring up pictures in our minds that are like action scenes from a Summer blockbuster. We are sorely out of touch with not only the ancient cultures we read about, but even with most of our own world.

Now, imagine (if you can) how you might feel as you were facing a future as a refugee in an enemy nation. What mood would you be in? It is fair to say that the people who were receiving Jeremiah's letter probably felt the same way you might - angry, scared, frustrated, depressed, anxious. Notice, however, what God tells them. He doesn't say, "Ok it is going to be terrible so go into Babylon like a captive. Grit your teeth and resist all their customs, live in separate neighbourhoods, and seek every opportunity you can to sabotage their economy!" I imagine I would have wanted to approach the Babylonian Exile like the French Resistance approached their Nazi occupiers in the Second World War. I would be looking for every opportunity to "stick it to them."

But God tells them that they will be there for 70 years and that they should build homes, live in them, plant gardens, eat what they grow, marry off your kids to the men and women there and have big families. In fact, notice the stress on that last point, "multiply there, and do not decrease"! You see, God was calling them, and is calling us to be a people that are counter-cultural. As Canadians we are not facing exile to an enemy nation at the moment, but, as Christians we are increasingly living in a culture that is hostile to our faith. When we are looking to move house, or change jobs, what factors do we take into consideration? God wants us to stop thinking like the rest of the world does and to start heeding his words in Jeremiah 29. Rather than make our decisions based on what we might get from the city, workplace, friendship or our family, we should be asking ourselves how we can bless them. When a job offer comes your way, do you first think about how the money will surely be nice (which is not a bad thing), or do you ask, "God, how can the gifts you've given to me serve that workplace?"

God wants to radically transform Calgary because he knows that to change culture you need to be present and active in the cultural centres. God chooses to change cultures by bringing his people into places of being culture-brokers. If we want to see transformation in the entertainment industry, we need to flood it with believers who know what it means to live Gospel-centred lives personally and publicly. To change Canadian political culture we need to encourage and train Christian men and women to be people who know what it means to love and serve God and our country. God is calling us to be a people who know what it means to live and declare an unchanging gospel in/to and ever-changing culture.

Carl, Aug 1, 2018

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