Destiny 3/3: Bless The City
As God’s ambassadors we are commissioned by Jesus to bring God’s rule and reign wherever we go and whatever we do. How can we, as an international church set in Groningen be a blessing to the city? What does that look like? And what are some biblical guidelines for this?
There is a very powerful passage in the book of Jeremiah which will form the key passage for today’s message. Jeremiah is sending a letter to the exiles in Babylon. They were in a foreign land, not by choice, but as captives. He writes this to them:
Jeremiah 29:4-7 (NIV)
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Let me give you some more context to this passage to help you understand its impact.
God had chosen the people of Israel as His people. He took them out of slavery in Egypt and brought them to the Promised Land. There, they were supposed to live under the rule and reign of God in peace and prosperity showing the whole world that Yahweh is the One and True God.
Yet, they rebelled against their God and for centuries were guilty of big scale idolatry, injustice and suppression of the marginalized. God warned them through many prophets that He would not tolerate this any longer, but they stuck to their rebellious lives. Then God sent the Babylonians to overpower them and take the upper and middle class of the people of Judah into exile in Babylon putting them to forced labor.
What you must understand about Babylon is that this is the complete counterpart to Jerusalem. You see this clearly in the book of Revelation where Babylon is the city where the satan seats, a symbol of human rebellion against their creator – but the heavenly Jerusalem is the place where God dwells. So, this exile was about much more than being far away from home. They were exiled in a spiritually desolate place. They were brought to the place symbolizing human rebellion against God, because that is exactly what they had been doing.
It’s interesting what Jeremiah is saying on God’s behalf to the people living in exile. Because, their response could also be one of going with the flow and adopt to the ways of Babylon. Or they could adopt an attitude of isolation, of retrieving from society and counting the days to their return.
But the Lord brought His people into exile to teach them how to live in exile. He knew that the Jews, even after returning from Babylon to Judea all the way until and after the time of Jesus, would always live under foreign oppression, being exiled in their own country.
And so, God tells them through Jeremiah, that they should not become like the Babylonians, nor isolate themselves, but to seek the peace and prosperity of the land. They were supposed to give what they had to make Babylon a better place.
Our responsibility in the city
And so, from this understanding of the way the Judean exiles were supposed to live in Babylon, let me translate it to our lives today. As Christians, we also live as exiles on this planet. We are citizens of heaven, we belong to the Kingdom of God, but live in a world that is deeply impacted by sin.
God also commissions us to not pull back from the society and culture we live in, nor to become one with it, but to influence it. Jesus is sending us out to bring His rule and reign wherever we go. He wants people to experience what it is like to live under His rule, in peace and prosperity. This is why Paul says that we are ambassadors of Christ. Jesus is sending us out to represent His Kingdom, because we have already experienced on a personal level what it is like when His rule and reign break in. And He says: “Go! Be salt in the food. Be the light in the darkness. Be like yeast in the dough. Show them and tell them what my Kingdom is like!”
God also commissions us to not pull back from the society and culture we live in, nor to become one with it, but to influence it.
So, as the people of God living in a hostile world, we are not going to live here with a temporary mindset counting the days until we get to go to heaven. God says to the Judean exiles in Babylon and to the Christians in Groningen: be a blessing to this city. Groningen is not the city you happen to live in right now, this is YOUR CITY. This is OUR CITY. God placed you as a person and us as a church in this city for a reason – to bless this city.
Let’s take another good look at verse 7: Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
The word ‘seeking’ means that you have to take an active posture. You cannot just wish well on the city, or hope for the best. Seeking says that you have to make an effort to see it happen. You have to make yourself available to see it happen.
And so, I pray that we, as a church, may also have an active posture, making ourselves available to see how we can be a blessing to this city. And I know that many of us are here only for a short while. Your body and brains are here to do what you came to do, but perhaps your heart is back in your home country. I fully understand. Yet, I want to challenge you today to ask God in what way you can actively bless the city you are living in.
The thing we need to seek is the ‘peace and prosperity’ of the city. The interesting thing is that ‘peace and prosperity’ is actually the translation of just one word: shalom. It is translated in two ways to incorporate the broadness of the term.
Let me try to unpack this a bit for you – whenever the Bible says shalom, it means far more than absence of war or peace of mind. Shalom points to the way God intends it to be. It points to a life under the complete rule and reign of God. Shalom means a complete wellbeing of body, soul and spirit.
Shalom is the result of God’s Kingdom becoming manifest in our lives and in our city.
Shalom is the result of God’s Kingdom becoming manifest in our lives and in our city. As Christians, it is our longing and our mission to see the world coming back under God’s rule and reign to experience this shalom. Here is what Jesus says to His disciples about shalom.
John 14:27 (NIV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
We are carriers of God’s shalom, always and everywhere! The peace that the world lacks. The peace the world cannot give but is so desperately looking for – we carry that with us! And guess what… Peace doesn’t run out when you give it away, no, it multiplies!
How we Bless the City
As Vineyard Groningen, we want to be a church that blesses this city. And we especially feel called to reach the internationals in this city, as this is what sets us apart from the rest of the churches in the city. We seek to do this in three ways: through prayer, serving and witnessing.
I’m going to close off this message trying to translate these three things into how we want to do this as a church, and also, how we can do this as individuals in our everyday lives.
Blessing is something we do with prayer. The heart of that prayer is: Your Kingdom come, Your will be done.
Prayer is powerful because for one, we acknowledge that we cannot do what we are called to do in our own strength. If we were to bring restoration in situations in our own strength, we are also more likely to take the credit. Jesus is the giver of shalom, and so we are vessels for Him to use.
Here’s another thing that happens when we pray; we allow God to move our hearts with compassion, to point us into a certain direction and stir us with a holy discontent for a certain situation, person or group of people.
When we pray, we allow God to move our hearts with compassion, to point us into a certain direction and stir us with a holy discontent for a certain situation, person or group of people.
In prayer, we allow Him to break our hearts for what breaks His heart, to see things the way He sees it and hear things the way He hears it.
As a church
We have four different prayer groups going on you are welcome to participate in
We do Kingdom Come nights where we seek to intercede for the city
We are looking at other ways to be praying for this city in unity. Together, and in cooperation with other church.
Here are some ways you could adopt a heart of prayer to bless this city:
Keep a short list of people in your neighborhood/work-study environment that do not know Jesus that you commit to pray for daily
Traveling through the city by car/bus/bike, shoot up some prayers for this city.
Seek to form prayer groups in your place of work/study/neighborhood together with other Christians.
Blessing the City is also done through action. I love how in recent years churches have rediscovered servant-evangelism. Just by blessing those who need it the most, we can be a witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Through our actions, we can make the city of Groningen a better place. This can be done in many ways and we seek to partner up with local organisations to do this.
As a church
Partnership with Overweeghuis – several volunteers helping out and financial gifts sent
Kerstpakketten actie in cooperation with Quartermasters
Seeking to connect groups/teams with practical ways to serve people with needs
I want to encourage every home group in our church to think in what way they as a group could bless someone in their network or help out with a project.
I want to encourage you to not jam-pack your daily schedule with so many things that you don’t have time to just look around for opportunities to serve the people around you
Let people know you as servants, seeking the best for everyone
Get involved with local initiatives, parent councils and whatever other opportunity you have to serve the people around you.
Last but not least, we need to open our mouths to share about the good news of Jesus Christ. I believe that the Spirit is giving all of us opportunities to witness, whether organized by us or especially organized by the Spirit.
Romans 1:16 (NIV)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.
We need to throw off our shame and discomfort around witnessing about Jesus Christ. Honestly, what do you have to lose? You have already given your life away and surrendered your pride to the King of Kings.
As a church
Alpha course – in cooperation with Host-Ifes
Passion Week – reaching the student community
Two of our home groups regularly visit the international services in Martini Church to connect with internationals there and invite them to church
There will be an International Christmas Service happening on Saturday December 14th and there are many opportunities to help make this happen
Other opportunities to jump into (evangelism on the streets or among students)
Always be ready to witness of Jesus. Don’t barge in and start preaching to people! But surely, don’t hide who you are and go for those salty conversations.
A Holy Discontent
I’d like to challenge you to pray to God to give you a holy discontent about a certain person or situation in your life or perhaps in society. Ask Him to stir within you and to give you an inner unrest and dissatisfaction with the way things are now. This holy discontent moves you to prayer and to action and to witness.