How do we work for the good of the city?

In my last post, I argued that we should work for the good of our cities. Our work is important and we should be motivated to work for the good of our cities since our welfare is tied up with the welfare of the city. In other words, as the city prospers, we will prosper. Not only will we prosper, but the gospel will have a more peaceful platform from which to launch. If we want to see our cities reached with the gospel and changed for good, we should work for the good of our cities. (Learn more from my last post here .)

You may be “amening” me at this point. You’re ready to jump on board. But you might be wondering, “how do I work for the good of the city? What are some practical actions I can take?” I’m glad you asked.

At the outset, let me say that we aren’t to work to bring about good with violence. Violence never accomplishes that which we believe it will accomplish. Instead, we are to work for the good of our cities in other ways. Here are three ways you can work for the good of your city.

(1) Participating in Politics and Law making.

Before you completely write this option off, hear me out. I’ll start with a quote because I believe it sets up the idea well.

“True justice exists only in the society of God, and this will be truly fulfilled only after the Judgment. Nevertheless, while no society on earth can fully express this justice, the one that is more influenced by Christians and Christian teaching will more perfectly reflect a just society. For this reason, Christians have a duty toward government.”

 Robert E. Webber in Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner’s, City of Man, 27.

I like what this guy has to say. It is reasonable and balanced. He knows politics aren’t going to solve all our problems. But he also knows that societies that are influenced by Christians are those that operate better than those that aren’t.

That’s because, as this same author goes on to argue:

“Laws express moral beliefs and judgments…They tells citizens what our society ought to value and condemn, what is worthy of our respect and what we should disapprove of.”

 Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, City of Man, 31.

Think about the state of Colorado: Marijuana is now legal. That is a big deal. Not only because its citizens readily have access to drugs, but also because it influences Coloradans morality. Right now, some citizens may see the use of Marijuana as being morally wrong, but think about how people will see it in fifty years. As a generation comes and goes the view that it is wrong to use marijuana is going to fade into the background. Laws express moral beliefs and judgments, they tell us what we should and shouldn’t approve of.

While politics and law is not for everyone, Christians can’t neglect its importance. It’s one way we can work for the good of the city as we live in the in-between.

(2) Truly Living as Disciples of Jesus

A friend of mine asked me in the past:

“What if the world actually saw Christians living out their calling?”

The reason he asked that is because a lot of people who claim to be Christian don’t live out their calling. While they might attend church on Sunday, the rest of the week they go about their business as usual. They don’t operate out of a Christian worldview, allowing it to drive and influence their everyday lives.

But imagine if we did? Imagine the impact we could have if we truly lived out our Christian convictions in every area of life? One author presses into this idea saying,

“It is therefore the church’s duty to display in an evil age of self-seeking, pride, and animosity the life and fellowship of the Kingdom of God and of the Age to Come.”

George Eldon Ladd, A theology of the New Testament, 113.

In other words, we are to live in a way that shows what it will be like to live in the new kingdom. We are to be witnesses to the change Jesus can bring about as we live in the every day. If we do, we will have considerable influence in the community.

Another way we can bring about change is actually living distinctly Christian lives.

(3) Preaching the Gospel

I left this one for last because I believe it’s the most important and that which we should ultimately be working towards. While changing laws and policies can bring about positive change in a society, they don’t deal with the core problem, which is the heart. When the Bible refers to the heart, it refers to our inner-self — our will, wants, and desires. It is what drives us. Naturally, we are sinful people. While laws and policies can restrain sin, it can’t cure it. Only the gospel can cure a sin sick heart.

When someone believes Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they experience a change in heart. Their desires, will, and wants should change. Instead of desiring sin, they should desire God. That desire should continually grow.

It is that desire that led David in Psalm 51:10 to pray,

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10)

Without his heart first being changed to desire the things of God, he would not have ever prayed that prayer. Nor would he have ever seen any life change.

If we truly want to make an impact on the cities in which we live, we need to preach the gospel. Telling others of the hope of Jesus. As they believe, their hearts will change, which should ultimately have an impact on the community as they live out their daily lives as disciples of Jesus.


Watch the sermon from which this post is developed.

We Should Work for the Good of Our Cities

As Christians, we should work for the good of cities. The idea appears sound. It appears that working for the good of the city is something we should definitely do.

But some Christians struggle with the idea. They would rather retreat from the city than work towards its good.

There are many objections we could explore but the one I want to tackle today is that this world is not our home. We belong to Jesus’ kingdom. As citizens of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom, we should work for its good but not the good of an earthly kingdom. Instead, we should distance ourselves from the world so that we are not tainted by the evil found therein. 

While some make the above argument, it is not biblical. Instead, the biblical view is that we should do all we can to work to bring about change in our cities now. 

Why should we work to bring about change in our cities? 

For the same reason Judah was supposed to work to bring about change in Babylon. As you read through the history of Israel, one thing becomes apparent — they were a rebellious people. Instead of worshipping the Lord, they worshipped other gods and relied on other nations to fight their battles instead of the Lord. As punishment for their unfaithfulness, God allowed His people to be conquered and exiled from the Promised Land. Israel was taken first by the Assyrians, then later Judah was taken by the Babylonians.

Right before the Babylonian exile, a number of false prophets told the people that they would come back to Jerusalem in just two short years, but that wasn’t God’s plan. In fact, Judah wasn’t coming back anytime soon. Instead they were going to stay in Babylon for 70 years (Jer. 29:10). 

While they would ultimately come back to the Promised Land, God didn’t want Judah to live as exiles. Instead he wanted them to take root. Jeremiah tells them in chapter 29 starting in verse 5:

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…” (Jer. 29:5-7a).

They were to take root — to have sons and daughters, to give them in marriage, and even to work for the good of the city. That might seem odd, but look at the rest of verse 7. It says, 

for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7b).

In other words, as the city prospers, they will prosper. As the city flourishes, they will flourish. That same idea applies to us. While our home is the kingdom to come, we live here now. 

Instead of living as strangers, as exiles, we are to take root. We aren’t to live on the fringes, we aren’t to pull back. Instead, we are to work for the good of our country, city, and community. We are to work for good because as the city prospers, we prosper. As the city flourishes, we flourish.

While we are here, we are to work to make things better. We are to show the world a sliver of the kingdom to come. As we do so, we will not only enjoy a better life, but we will act as witnesses of the kingdom for which we find our hope. Hopefully, others will find their hope in the kingdom to come too.


Watch the sermon from which this post was developed.

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness 

Reading through 1 Thessalonians this morning, and as a follow up to my last post, I am struck by Paul’s care and desire for the Thessalonians. Certainly, his care extends to their physical needs, but his focus is on the spiritual in the latter verses of chapter 2 into chapter 3. His own boasting before the Lord is wrapped up in their spiritual steadfastness and growth (1 Thess 2:19). His desire to know how they are doing spiritually causes him to send Timothy ahead of himself and leaving him without his trusted associate (1 Thess 3:1-2). Upon Timothy’s return, his good report causes him joy (1 Thess 3:9). 

Paul as Model

Paul is a model in many ways. His boldness to proclaim the gospel and plant churches is inspiring. His willingness to put his life on the line for the sake of Christ time and time again is convicting. But his boldness and bravado are balanced by tenderness. As Christian leaders, we must not only be bold and brave, but we must also be tender with those whom the Lord has placed under our care. 

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness.

Rather it is evidence that the gospel has affected your heart. Our Lord is tender. He cares for those who are His like a nursing mother cares for her child. 

There are no pictures of Paul. Photography didn’t exist in Paul’s day. But I can’t help but think of Paul as a big, burly guy. I could be wrong. But that is the image that comes to mind when I think of Paul. If a big burly guy like Paul can be tender and caring so can we. Men, Pastor, allow Paul to be your example.

Tenderness is not a sign of weakness. 

Don’t Retreat, Engage!

While it might be the case that many of you work and live among non-believers, it is also true that Christians often look for ways to retreat into their holy huddle.

Instead of gathering together in a holy huddle, I believe we are supposed to interact with and engage non-believers. If we don’t, we can’t accomplish the Great Commission — to make disciples because we don’t know any non-believers. If we want to win non-believers to Christ, we have to know some non-believers.

The reason I bring this up is because I know it is easy for us as Christians to gather together in our holy huddle. That is fine for a time, but at some point we have to break the huddle and engage those around us with the gospel, especially knowing that Jesus could return at any point. 

Imagine throwing down a couple of hundred dollars for a ticket to a Cowboys game, fighting traffic all the way over to Arlington, and spending even more time finding a parking spot and even more money at the concession stand, only to see the Cowboys never break the huddle after fielding the first kickoff and having to turn the ball over to the other team because of delay of game penalties. Imagine that? Imagine seeing that? 

That is exactly what we do if we remain in our holy huddle. Sure it is safe in there, but if we never engage anyone with the gospel, all we are doing is turning things over to the other team. That’s not good because the other team isn’t just going to score a touchdown. The other team is scoring someone’s soul. Instead of remaining in a holy huddle, we need to engage those around us with the gospel.

In order to do that we have to know people who are non-believers. When I say know, I don’t mean know of, but actually know them — as in you have a relationship with them. If we are going to accomplish the Great Commission, we have to know non-believers. We have to interact with them on a regular basis. 

We have to be like the world, engaging them in relationship with the gospel, while at the same time we must be unlike the world, so that they can see what it would look like for them to live as a Christian. 

Use the relationships you have. Engage the people you know on a regular basis. Get to know non-believers and engage them with the gospel.

The Time is Unknown

I don’t know about you, but when I travel by air, I am always worried about the flight being on time. I am sure you all can relate. I am sure you all have a travel horror story where you sat in the airport not knowing when or if the flight was going to take off.

One of my more memorable was when I was returning from seminary in Kentucky. It was winter. It was cold. I had been there for two weeks. I was ready to come home, sleep in my own bed and see my family. It was Friday. The flight was packed. There wasn’t an open seat on plane. 

As we boarded, notifications started popping up on my phone about the weather coming. There was a thunderstorm on the way. It was headed directly for the airport. My hope, as well as the other passengers, and the pilots was that we could take off before the storm came through. We were all set to roll back from the gate when the news everyone dreaded came over the speaker: “Folks, this is your pilot speaking. We are going to have to hold tight until this storm rolls by. We hope it will only be a few minutes.” I know you have heard that message. It’s one none of us wants to hear when we just want to get home.

After a few minutes, the storm rolled through. But just as soon as that one was out of the area, another spun up. It continued like that for hours. No one, not even the pilots knew if we were going to take off that night. We all wanted to get in the air and get home. But we can only predict the weather and track it. We can’t control it.

Eventually we made it in the air and home, but it wasn’t until midnight that we took off and around 2 in the morning when I landed. That is not something I expected when I showed up for my flight that day. I didn’t know I was going to be delayed until late that night. As I was waiting to take off, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to leave. Thankfully we were, but everything was up in the air. It was a big unknown. 

Do you know what else is unknown?

Jesus’ return is unknown. The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the King of the World, not only the King but our Savior. We believe He is our only hope. The One who will set everything right in the world. 

We all know the world is broken. We all long, in one way or another, for something more, something better, a perfect world. For those of us who believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we all long for the day when Jesus will return and set things right. 

While we all long for the day when Jesus will return:

The Time of Jesus’ Return is Unknown

In Matthew 24, Jesus tells us just that:

““But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Mt 24:36)

The time of Jesus’ return is unknown to us and to Jesus while He was on earth. Jesus tells us He doesn’t know the time. 

That might seem a bit odd. Especially since Jesus is going to play a central role in that day. He is the One coming back. He is the One who will judge the nations. It might seem a bit odd that He doesn’t know, but that is how things have been arranged. In His humanity, Jesus does not know the day or the time of His return. Even if He wanted to, Jesus couldn’t tell His disciples when He was coming back because He didn’t know. Only the Father knew the date and time of His return. 

All those who attempt to date Jesus’ return are wrong. They have no idea when Jesus is going to return. Jesus Himself didn’t know when He walked the earth. If He didn’t know, no one else knows either. Not even that televangelist who is uber convinced they have discovered the date through some secretive code or a word from God Himself. No one knows the time of Jesus’ return.  

We know He is going to return, like I knew my flight would eventually take off back to DFW. But none of us know when. The Bible doesn’t tell us. Since the Bible doesn’t tell us, we shouldn’t bother speculating. Nor should we ignore the fact that Jesus will return one day, as many do. 

Since there is not a set definitive point in history when Jesus will return, many people believe they have time. Time to change the path on which they are on. Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven presents this idea loud and clear with the lyrics:

Yes, there are two paths you can go by
But in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
And it makes me wonder

Zeppelin pictured humanity coming together to create something beautiful, something wonderful, to make this world great — heaven. 

While they believed in a perfect world, they sought to find it in an imperfect way. 

No man can make this world heaven. We, in and of ourselves, can’t change the world. Only Jesus can. He will return one day. At a day and hour we do not know, which means we have no idea whether we have time to change our mind or not, to change the path on which we walk. We have no idea because we don’t know when Jesus will return. 

Where we go wrong is believing we have the time.When people say things like — I have time. That is really code for: I still have time to live how I want and do what I want. I still have time to live as the big “K” king of my life. 

But that is not true. We don’t know how much time we have, which means today is the day of salvation.

How Can We Praise God During the Hard Times?

Most people will tell you it is easy to praise God when things are going well, but it’s not so easy to praise Him when life throws you a curveball. We have been thrown a curveball over these last couple of years.  Many of us have had a hard year. Right now, you might be struggling to thank and praise God. You might be having a hard time thinking about what you are going to voice to your family as you sit around the table and talk about what you are thankful for.

While many of you have most likely had a hard year, while our churches have had a hard year, I want to give you some reasons why you can thank and praise God this Thanksgiving. Habakkuk is probably not a book you venture to too often. He is one of the Minor Prophets, but his message is not minor. It is powerful. It provides several reasons we can praise God, even when life is difficult.

In chapter 3 of his book he says,

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:17–19, ESV)

Habakkuk faced difficulties but he still found a way to praise and worship the Lord. How is that?
How can Habakkuk promise to rejoice in the Lord when everything around him is crumbling? When he is facing hardship and suffering loss, what is it that allows him to take joy in God?

What is it that allows us to praise God when things are difficult? I believe Habakkuk clues us into four truths in these three verses that allow us to thank God even in the difficult times.

(1) We can praise God in difficult times because God is unchanged (v.17)

Looking at verse 17, we see that Habakkuk paints a picture of loss for us. Specifically he envisions losing things that are vital to their economy.

  • The fig tree is not going to blossom
  • Fruit will not be found on the vine
  • The olive trees will cease production
  • The fields will yield no harvests
  • The cattle and sheep will be lost

Losing all these things at once would put a major strain on the economy and the people of the land.

We know this to be true. Over the last couple of years our country experienced economic hardship because of COVID. People have lost their jobs, their homes. Inflation is on the rise.

COVID has not only effected the economy, it has also effect us personally. Some people have had to go without food and other basic necessities. Others have seen their marriages erode. Still others have lost loved ones. Others have lost their homes. Some have had to move away from friends and family to find work.

Surely, everything everyone has faced over these last couple of years has caused: An immense amount of stress, worry, anxiety, and tension.

I am sure Habakkuk felt these things too. But look at how he responds in verse 18: 

“yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Hab 3:18)

How can that be? How can Habakkuk rejoice? How can he take joy in God? He is able to rejoice, thank, and praise God because God is unchanging.

Habakkuk says he will rejoice in the “Lord” — Yahweh — the great I AM. The One who is eternal and unchanging.

While things in this world change, God doesn’t!

In Malachi 3:6 we read,

““For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Mal 3:6)

In Hebrews 13:8, we learn:

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8)

God doesn’t change! Since God doesn’t change, we can rejoice!

We can be thankful, even though everything around us changes because we know we can count on the Lord. His promises to us will not go unanswered.

(2) We can praise God in difficult times because we have salvation (v.18)

As much as we would like to think life is stable and certain, it isn’t. In reality, we are never far from problems in this life.

Not too long ago my dad told me about a guy on his softball team who was diagnosed with stomach cancer. One week he was playing alongside my dad in a softball tournament. The next week he was sitting in a doctor’s office being told he had stage 4 stomach cancer for which there was nothing they could do. He died in a matter of months.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

Or take my mom for instance. One day she noticed that one of her fingertips was turning black. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with Scleroderma, a disease that changed her life and ultimately took it.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

Or consider my grandma. One night she went to bed just as she always did. At some point in the middle of the night, she had a stroke, which left half her body paralyzed and her unable to speak. She lived the rest of her life in a nursing home being cared for 24 hours a day.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

In February of last year, we heard about a new virus that was ravaging China. Eventually it made its way to the States. In March of 2020, life as we know it changed. Most everyone here has experienced some sort of loss because of COVID.

Life is fragile and uncertain.

But God is not fragile! God is not uncertain! Our salvation does not hang in the balance, it is a sure thing.  Everything else can be taken from us — Our job, house, health, ability to communicate, our freedom, and even our life, but our salvation is certain. In Romans 8:1 Paul writes,

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Ro 8:1)

Those who have repented of their sins and believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior are no longer in fear of God’s punishment. That’s because Jesus has taken our punishment for us. When Jesus died on the cross, God’s wrath was poured out on Him, and all those who are in Christ no longer have to fear His judgment because there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ.”

Since God is unchanged our salvation is always certain. For that we can be thankful, even in the uncertainties and difficulties of life. Since our salvation is certain we can and should praise God!

(3) We can praise God in difficult times because God is Sovereign (v.19)

God being sovereign means that He is in control of everything. As the One who is in control, He either causes or allows everything to happen according to His eternal decree. Hearing that might make us uncomfortable because it means there are things that happen that God could have stopped but doesn’t. But while God’s sovereignty may initially make us uncomfortable, it ultimately should comfort us because it means God is in control and He can and will work all things out according to His eternal plan. Isn’t that what we learn God is doing in the book of Romans? In Romans 8:28 we read,

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Ro 8:28)

When Paul says this, he doesn’t mean that everything will work out just hunky-dory for those who are Christians. Or that every bad thing actually has a “silver lining” Or that every terrible thing is somehow actually a good thing if you learn to look at it properly. That is not what Paul is saying.

Instead what he is saying is that God will ultimately use everything in our lives to glorify Himself and bring us to salvation. The only way that can happen is if God is sovereign.Is if He is in control of everything. Indeed He is, which is why He can work all things for good.

Even the difficult things we face have a purpose — it is meant to bring us to salvation and to glorify God.
We may not understand how that is the case, but God does. Since God is sovereign we can praise and thank Him even in difficult times.

(4) We can be thankful in difficult times because we are triumphant in Christ (v. 19)

In Christ, we are triumphant over the evil in our lives now because none of it will separate us from God (Rom. 8:31-39). We will be triumphant over our enemies in the future when Jesus returns because He will vindicate us and destroy our enemies once and for all (Rev. 19-22).

Before Jesus returns, we will face difficult situations, but none of them will ultimately defeat us because God will keep us in Christ. In Christ, we will be and are victorious and triumphant. When we face difficult situations, we should thank God because He gives us the strength to continue in the faith, and He will one day free us from those situations, conquering our enemies and ushering in a New Heavens and New Earth where we will live in sinless perfection for all eternity.

Conclusion

When you face difficulties in this life, and you will, don’t run from God, rather run to Him, praising and thanking Him for all you have in Him despite the difficulties and hardship you are experiencing.

It is not easy but by remembering that:

  • God doesn’t change.
  • He provides us with salvation.
  • He is Sovereign.
  • He causes us to be triumphant in Christ.

Knowing and resting in these truths about God, should make it possible for us to stand and say with Habakkuk, 

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” (Hab 3:18–19)”

Question for Reflection

  1. What else allows us to praise the Lord during difficult times?

Resources

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