Matt Carter speaks on being for the ctiy.
Series: A Church For The City
I have hung up two pictures in my office to remind me of things. The first picture is of Charles Haddon Spurgeon; the second is of a baptism service, taken in 1902 in Cedar Creek, Texas. The pastor in the water with the people was Jeremiah Benjamin Moon. Everyone in the picture has gone on to glory, to heaven. It reminds me that our time together here on earth is very short. Our time as a church is so limited.
At the most, we have forty years to make our mark on church history; to do the things God has called us to do. Then it’s over. Then we pass the torch to the next generation who will have forty years to make their mark.
I want to remind ourselves what kind of church God has called us to be. He’s given us specific principles on how we’re to spend our time together, during our part of the Great Commission.
God has called us to be a church that is for our city.
The Different Kinds of Church
You need to think about the kind of church you want to be a part of, the kind you want to raise your kids in and the kind you want to be.
A lot of times, a church will fall into one of three categories based on how they view their city. The vast majority of churches in this country view their city in one of three ways:
1. With apathy.
2. With animosity.
3. With an attitude of imitation.
A Church In The City
These are churches in the city. There are hundreds of churches like this in Austin. The vast majority of churches in this country are simply just in their city.
They’re located geographically in the city limits, but because they view the people of the city and the city itself with such apathy, they make little or no impact whatsoever on the city.
They have church services, programs for their people, but that’s where their impact on their city ends.
A Church Against The City
These types of churches are becoming less and less prevalent, thankfully. These churches have animosity toward their city. They’re not apathetic, they often times despise their city. This is a church that is against the city.
The people’s mindset is that they are good and the people of the city are bad. They’re right and the people of the city are wrong, evil and need to be punished.
This is what Jonah was dealing with. God told Jonah to go to the evil city of Nineveh to preach and call the city to repentance. Jonah said he wouldn’t do it and then took off to Tarsus. God had to send a whale to swallow him and spit him out on the beach of Nineveh. Jonah didn’t want to preach the gospel to the people of Nineveh or see the restoration of the city, because they were evil. He thought they needed to be punished.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of churches that have this same mentality. I grew up in one. I’ve worked in one. It’s the idea that the church is good and the city is bad, therefore the people of the church completely isolate themselves from the culture and people of the city. They look down on the city with disdain.
A Church Of The City
These churches have been becoming more and more prevalent in our society. This church doesn’t have animosity or apathy towards their city. They actually seek to imitate their city. I call this a church of the city. They want to look like, feel like and act like their city.
At first glance, it seems right, because part of it is. But often times, in their attempt to imitate and be relevant to their city, these churches get so assimilated that they stop looking like the people of God.
This is what Jesus was referring to in Revelation 2 when talking to the church in Ephesus. Some things they were doing well, while other things not so well. One of the things they were doing well was not doing the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus hated.
The church of the Nicolaitans was trying to be culturally relevant. But they bent so far to the culture and looked so much like the secular city they stopped actually being salt and light.
I see churches like this more and more. They’ll even admit their number one goal is to be culturally relevant, thinking people will only listen to them if they are. In this attempt, they actually lose their relevance in the culture.
There was an American church whose pastor wanted to do a series on sex. He titled it, “Sexperiment,” and challenged married couples to have sex every day for seven days. They thought it would be really cool if the pastor and his wife did a live simulcast from a bed on the roof of the church. The whole goal was just to talk about sex. People hear this and think it’s stupid. I can tell you story after story of people trying to be relevant, but instead just made their church into a circus.
There comes a point in time, where the pastor and the church’s leadership need to be able to speak into the culture. The culture itself is running from the precepts of the Lord and we as a church have to be able to stand up with power, clarity, authority and wisdom and say, “No, that is sin. I don’t care what the culture says. The God Almighty says it is sin.” You have to be able to have that power, authority, wisdom, and maturity to be heard by the city.
Some churches are trying so hard to be cool the culture just thinks they’re idiots. That’s why Jesus came to the church of Ephesus and expressed His thankfulness that they weren’t doing the deeds of the Nicolaitans, because he hated them.
We can’t be a church of the city. There needs to be difference between darkness and light, even in our attempt to love our city.
All three of these attitudes are wrong biblically. We’re not going to be a church that’s just in our city. We’re definitely not going to be against our city. We’re not going to be a church that’s of our city, because even though we’re going to love them well, we want to continue to be salt and light.
A Church For The City
We’re going to be a church that’s for our city.
The people of God, the Israelites, had been sinning like crazy and running from God, and worshipping other gods. He was always going after them, wooing them back and giving them grace. But finally God brought His judgment upon them and raised up the Babylonians, sending them into Israel to destroy their city. Then they took all the people they didn’t kill captive.
In Jeremiah 29, God begins to speak to the Israelites who had just been taken into captivity because of their sin. He tells them how He wants them to act, to treat and to relate to the evil people while being in captivity and living in their city.
4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 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. Jeremiah 29:4-6 (ESV)
God sent them into the pagan city of Babylon and told them to increase, not decrease, while they live there. With those words, God shoots down the idea that we’re suppose to assimilate so far into the culture that we lose our identity as children of God.
The Babylonians had a real sneaky way of taking over a country. Instead of killing everybody, they would kill a bunch then take the ones left over back to Babylon. Then they would let those people live in good neighborhoods with good jobs, even let them have governmental positions. The idea was that they would assimilate into the culture, so that a few years down the road, there would be no more Israelites, just Babylonians.
That is the danger of us trying to be so culturally relevant; we lose our identity. That’s why Jesus had such a big problem with it. We assimilate into the culture of Austin until people can no longer tell the difference between the lost world and us. Some of you have fallen into this trap. It started off as you wanting to be salt and light to your fraternity or sorority, but now you’re sucked into the culture and can’t tell the difference between you and those you wanted to be salt and light to.
As we are in the city, this foreign land that isn’t our home, we are not to stop being God’s people.
5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 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. 7 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 29:5-7 (ESV)
God doesn’t say He wanted them to escape the city, or to hate the city that killed their families and brought them into exile, or to look down on the city.
God told them to pray for them and seek their welfare.
The word welfare is the Hebrew word Shalom. He wanted them to seek the shalom of the pagan city. A lot of times shalom gets translated into peace. But it has a deeper meaning, not just the cessation of hostilities between two people. It means universal flourishing.
God told them to pray and pursue the universal flourishing of the city where they were in exile.
This statement about God telling them to increase, not to lose their identity, go into the city and seek it’s universal flourishing has been one of the foundational scriptures for our church. We want to be this kind of church. God was telling the Israelites then, and us now that He doesn’t want His people to just be in a city making no impact, or against the city, or even just of the city.
God is calling us to be a church for the city, for the name of Jesus, for the glory of God and for the sake of the Gospel.
Serve The City
As we live our lives, making our impact on church history and getting in the fight of the Great Commission, we need a subtle mindset change. As we walk with Jesus, we don’t look at the city of Austin as something we’re here to take from, but rather as a city we are to serve.
Often times our view of the city is what we can take from it. We don’t view ourselves as being for the city’s welfare, but rather view the city as here for our welfare.
As Christians, we are the most served people in the history of the world. Should we not in turn be the most serving people in the history of the world?
We are not here to take from Austin, whether a degree, a spouse, a career or wealth. We must think of this city as the place God has us for a very intentional reason.
In Acts it actually says God set your allotted time in this life and set the boundaries of your habitation. This means God specifically looked at you, before the foundation of the world, and chose you to be in Austin, Texas in the year 2014. God handpicked you to be right here, right now.
What is it that He wants you to do for the short amount of time that you’re here?
For the businessmen and women, it means your business plan doesn’t just include the flourishing of your family and business, but you also ask God how He wants you to be a blessing to your employees and your city in the name of Jesus, for the glory of God and for the sake of the Gospel.
For you artists, it means you don’t just go and make great art for the sake of making great art. You make great art to be a shalom for the city of Austin in the name of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God and for the sake of the Gospel.
For parents, teachers and administrators, if we’re a church that is for our city, it means we don’t go out there and fight for good schools so our kids can have good schools. Knowing what God has done for us, we go out and serve those schools so that the city of Austin can have good schools for the name of Jesus, for the glory of God, and for the sake of the Gospel.
For university students, it’s a mindset change. You’re not just here for college for the four or five years to get a degree and then leave. What would happen if the three thousand of you that attend the Austin Stone responded to how God has served you through Jesus by refusing to look at your years at the University of Texas by what you’re taking, but commit to serving and blessing it?
Some of you argue this is an Old Testament concept, from Jeremiah 29. I don’t think it is. I think it’s exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:14-16 ESV).
A Church For The City Of London
One of the greatest examples of this is Charles Spurgeon and his church, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London, during the 1850s. They not only lifted high the name of Jesus, but also was a church that was for the city God had placed them in.
Spurgeon’s preaching wasn’t what made their church so amazing and powerful. It was the church’s love for the city and the way they impacted it.
It was the Victorian era with lots of industrialization. People were leaving farms by the thousands and pouring into the city. As a result, the population of the poor, the orphan and the widow skyrocketed. A lot of the churches did what most churches do when neighborhoods become under resourced; they ran to the suburbs.
The Metropolitan Tabernacle had to ask what kind of church they were going to be. Would they be a church just in their city, taking care of themselves? Would they be a church against their city, looking down on all the poor people? Or would they be a church of their city, not being salt or light?
They decide to be a church for their city. They stayed there in the middle of all the chaos, made a difference and were for their city, in the name of Jesus, for the glory of God and for the sake of the Gospel.
Besides having a church that was filled to capacity every Sunday with people getting saved left and right, they did some amazing things. They built over a dozen low-income housing residences where people could come to get on their feet until they could find a job. Their church, people just like you, did this. They built seventeen fully funded homes for the elderly. Back then there was no social security. If you didn’t have a family to take care of you, there wasn’t anything else. They built these homes where they could come and be taken care, so they could die with dignity. The church, people just like you, raised their hand and said they’d do whatever it took. They built an orphanage where they housed, clothed and educated 400 orphans.
I could go and on. As they did this, being for their city, they began to have influence among the poor, then among the rich and even with the British aristocracy. Slowly but surely these five thousand people began to change the culture of London. Not only were they impacting the city theologically and spiritually, but also they began to see their influence impact the city economically, socially, and emotionally.
They changed the city of London, to the point that it was said of the Metropolitan Tabernacle that had they closed their doors during that time and decided to move out to the suburbs, the city of London would have grieved.
Let Us Be A Church For The City Of Austin
I don’t know about you, but I want to go to and be a part of a church like that. Yes, the word of God is preached with all power, clarity and authority on a Sunday, but at the same time, the people of the church don’t huddle and stay there, but leave the four walls of the building and go to bless and love the city of Austin in the name of Jesus.
Because of what Jesus did for us, we are the most served people in the world. Should we not be the most serving people?
Ask yourself, “God, what do you want me to do? In light of the Gospel, and the way You’ve changed and loved me, for the short time I have until You take me home, how do You want me to serve, love and engage this city you have me in?”
Then when He shows you, say yes. Do it for the glory of God.