What you think about God and his creation are the two most important aspects of who you are. You can’t have a corrupt root system and get righteous fruit from it. I love Summit because they know how to marry orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right living).
Today I’m talking about how the gospel of Jesus Christ brings freedom to cities. Throughout scripture, we see that God has a heart for people in cities. Adam had his Eden, Jesus had his Jerusalem, David had his Bethlehem. Paul said, “I have to get to Rome.” Chris Brooks has his Detroit.
What city has God placed on your heart? Ask the Lord, “How can I be an agent of love, salvation, transformation, and freedom here.” Look around and ask, what does this city need to be liberated from? What do the people of the city need to experience freedom from?
My burden is for Detroit. I tell people all the time, I’m not in Detroit by force, I’m in Detroit by choice. In Detroit, we face brokenness every day. Brokenness creates bondage. It’s not just an urban problem. It’s a universal, ubiquitous problem. Devaluing human life produces a bondage of violence.
It also creates a bondage of dependency. I live in a city that, much to our shame, receives about half a billion dollars in food stamps every year. Part of the reason I stand strongly against an aid-based solution to the problems of the poor is because I’ve seen the dependency it’s created. If a young man grows up in a home where his mother received food stamps, and his grandmother before that, then what does he expect?
Those of you called to help the economically down-trodden, ask yourself, “What is really working?” Don’t let sentimentality drive you. Look at people as individuals and figure out what brings empowerment. Never do for someone else what they have the capacity to do for themselves, because it strips them of dignity.
Here are five things we can do to bring the gospel to our cities:
1. Embrace the power of a city theology.
Tim Keller says, “Christians should strive to be known for their love for cities, their commitment to justice and mercy, and their love for their neighbors.”
I’m conservative, but I think we often spend more time on what we are against rather than what we’re for. Great ideas capture the heart through human stories. We need to tell stories of how the gospel transforms cities. Oftentimes our liberal friends win their arguments not because they’re right but because they specialize in human stories.
2. Embrace the power of common grace.
Gabe Lyons says, “What the church is missing is the theology of common grace … the grace that causes us to say like the Psalmist, the Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all, and all he has made.” In my community, what does the grace of God look like when it’s applied to my atheist or Muslim neighbors or drug-dealers? Does God have any grace for them?
The number one reason why most people don’t want to do evangelism in Muslim communities or in urban poor communities like Detroit is fear. And it’s not just a black fear; there’s a white fear as well. As a pastor, I’m always encouraging people to not be afraid. Part of the problem is we have a fear-based fight-or-flight mentality. When you have a love-based metanarrative of the world, the goal is not to conquer your neighbor but to love and influence them into a relationship with Christ.
Last summer, we renovated many houses and gave away a house to a single mom who is a school-teacher with two children. Part of my job during the project was to walk up and down the street and pray for people. I came up to this drug-dealer who had two cell phones going. I introduced myself as Pastor Brooks, and he tells the guy on the phone, “I gotta go. A pastor just came to visit.” I asked if I could pray for him, and in our conversation he says, “You know what we need around here? More good guys like you.” I told him he could be that guy; he didn’t have to import one. We talked for an hour, and began a relationship. The only way I could have that conversation is for love to cast out fear.
3. Embrace the power of the Christian worldview.
The Bible is the story of the whole world. Chuck Colson said,
The Christian worldview is more consistent, morally rational, and more workable than any other belief system. It beats all other contenders in giving credible answers to the great questions any other worldview must answer. Questions like, where did we come from, what is the human dilemma, what can we do to solve the human dilemma? The way that we see the world guides the way we work to change the world.
Here’s what he’s saying: The Christian worldview, when put up against other worldviews, always wins. Christians have to go from defense to offense.
4. Embrace the power of created calling.
Andy Crouch says, “Christians should be known for cultivating what is best for human culture. … We should be known as creators, people who dare to think and do something that has never been thought or done before, something that makes that world more welcoming, thrilling, and beautiful.”
What are you doing to make your community more welcoming, more thrilling, and more beautiful?
Jeremiah 29:4-7 says,
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.
Are you building houses, families, businesses, and gardens in your community?
5. Embrace the power of collaboration.
Vince Lombardi, the great football coach, says, “Individual commitment to a group effort, that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” None of us can do this alone. Get involved in your local church, that’s where you leverage relationships. We can do more together than we can apart.
Acts 16:9-10 says, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: A man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
I encourage you to pray until you get a vision of where God wants you to minister. Just as the Macedonian man was crying out “please come help us,” there are groups in your own backyard that are crying out for help. We should see our communities as people God wants to save.