Prosper the City
The Challenge of the City
Today we are beginning a brand new series focusing on the city and our role in it. One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to view its skyline. I love seeing the skyline as you fly into a new town or drive on the interstate. Here’s some skylines that I want to quiz you on and see how you do.
- San Francisco
- St. Louis
- New York City
One of the reasons I love cities so much is I draw energy from large crowds of people. As an extrovert, there is never a crowd too large for me. The more people the happier I am. There is a myth that has been believed by many people for a long time that cities make people miserable. Did you know that people report being happier. In a book entitled Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser he reports that in countries where more than half of the population is urban 30% say they are happy, while 17% say they are unhappy. But in countries where more than half of the population is rural 25% report being happy, but 22% report being unhappy. In addition, more people are leaving the suburb and moving back into cities in order to cut down on commute times to work. Look at the amount of apartment buildings and lofts being developed in our own city to realize this trend. In an article in the journal Foreign Policy in 2010 look at what it said about cities: “The 21st century will not be dominated by America or China, Brazil, or India, but by the city. In an age that appears increasingly unmanageable, cities rather than states are becoming the islands of governance on which the future world order will be built.” Do I have your attention yet? The church’s ability to interact and partner with the city is tremendously important. So over the course of the next 8 weeks, we are going to look at stories across the entire narrative of Scripture both Old and New Testament about the importance of cities. Today we look at the challenge of the city, and we will be in Genesis 18 and Genesis 19.
Sin Exists in Cities:
"Then the Lord said, 'How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!'" — Genesis 18:20
This is just a matter of simple math. More people in a location is going to equal more opportunity for sin. Now I am not saying rural areas are sinless, but cities provide opportunities that rural areas do not.
The text indicates that the sin was so great in Sodom and Gomorrah that God responded to the outcry. It wasn’t just that God himself recognized the problem of wickedness, but that others noticed it as well.
In addition to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah desiring to take the angels to engage in essentially gang rape, what is equally as tragic is Lot offering up his daughters instead. There is so much tragedy in this story. How is it possible that people could be so incredibly evil?
What’s just as important as the sin problem in cities is your response to it. There are three ways that you can respond to what you see in the city:
- You can flee from it completely and judge the parties involved in sin, which essentially makes you like a legalist or a Pharisee.
- You can join in and immerse yourself in the sinful behavior. Or you can
- Recognize the sin, but provide a solution to it in a humble and respectful way.
Now obviously #3 is the path that I would recommend, but if we were honest this morning I think we would all say that we have been guilty of responding in all 3 ways.
- Richard Niebuhr wrote a book many years ago entitled Christ and Culture. This book lays out 5 different ways Christ can relate to the culture. I want to share these 5 ways with you, and then tell you the way that I believe is the best for the church moving forward.
- 1) Christ against culture: withdrawing from the culture
- 2) Christ of culture: recognizing God at work in the culture and looks for ways to affirm the culture.
- 3) Christ above culture: takes the good in culture and builds on that with Christ.
- 4) Christ and culture in paradox: a dualistic model which views Christians as citizens of a secular world and a sacred world and
- 5) Christ transforming culture: transforming every part of the culture with Christ.
- Now every one of these models has strengths and weaknesses, but ultimately we desire model #5.
E. The church should seek to allow Christ to transform the culture. Transforming the culture doesn’t mean abandoning the culture. It means allowing Christ to work through the culture, and see how the culture looks on the other side of that. In other words, you meant people where they are and you allow Christ to transform them, and culture will follow the transformation. If you’re a chef here, a musician, an artist, whatever it is you do I’m not wanting you to remove yourself from your environment, I want Christ to transform you and then you transform your environment.
�God Hears the Prayers for the City:
"Then he said, 'Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.' He answered, 'For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.'" — Genesis 18:32
There is this running dialogue between Abraham and God. The number actually starts at 50, and works its way down to 10. For ten righteous people God was willing to save Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham plead for the city to be saved, and God was willing to listen to his requests.
God can be much more reasonable than we want him to be. He was genuinely listening to Abraham. He heard his request he was willing to relinquish his judgment. Follower of Christ do not think God is not hearing your prayers. He hears you, but he acts according to his perfect timing.
What prayers do you have on your heart for the city? What would you like to see God accomplish through you with the time you have in New Orleans?
I think we all are aware of the areas in our city where God needs to intervene. I will continue to say that it is not government’s job, education’s job, law enforcements job to fix the city. It is the church’s job. We have a unique calling to transform the lives of individuals through the good news of Jesus Christ, and by doing so, we will transform the city where live, work, and play.
Prepare for Acceptance and Rejection:
"So Lot went out and said to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, “Up, get out of this place; for the LORD is about to destroy the city.” But he seemed to his sons-in-law to be jesting." — Genesis 19:14
Lot’s sons in law did not listen to the warning. They thought that Lot was joking. The information was clearly communicated to them, but they chose not to accept it.
This is important to understand. You need to prepare yourself for mixed responses to Jesus. You will face rejection sometimes, and there will be all sorts of different reasons for that rejection. Some might find the claims of Jesus to be too much. Counting the cost of following Jesus might be more than some want to give up. Others, might deny the resurrection of Jesus.
We need to remember though that rejection by some is not an excuse to quit sharing. In fact, your rejections help you to realize just how awesome it is when someone accepts Jesus. I am trying to get you to understand that you don’t need to worry too much about trying to make Jesus appealing to people. There will always be those who reject Jesus. We don’t want to try to make Jesus so culturally relevant that we water down the importance of what he actually did. The truth of what Jesus did for us does not change depending on the culture or what is deemed relevant or appropriate. From the first century on, Jesus has always been the Son of God, who died on a cross for the sin of all humanity and humanity can receive forgiveness of sin through believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
- An OpEd piece in the New York Times in 2015 entitled, “Googling for God” examined the popular search engine to see what questions people had about God. I think you will find the results striking. Here are the questions people have for God and about God on google. Over 25,000 people asked, “Who Created God?, Almost 10,000 asked why does God allow suffering? Almost 2500 asked why does God hate me? 119 people asked why doesn’t God answer my prayers, and 77 said why does God not show himself.
What is most interesting to me about all of these questions being asked is other than who created God? All of them are framed in the negative. In other words, there is a perception out there that God is somehow against us. Friends, we are responsible for changing that narrative. I am not satisfied with these search results. I long for the day when search results have questions like, how much does God love me? Why did Jesus die for me? Why does God forgive me? But I think we are a long way from those types of questions. You and I are responsible for changing those questions.
God remembers his people:
"…God remembered Abraham, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had settled." — Genesis 19:29
God remembered Abraham and his family because he made a covenant with him in Genesis 15. God keeps his word perfectly. You can count on it. What God says in his word is as pure and true as anything you will ever read or hear.
Because God made a promise with Abraham this allowed Lot and his family to be spared from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
There is a parallel here between the story of Abraham and the story of Noah in Genesis 6. When God remembered Noah, the flood water started to recede. When God remembered Lot, he made sure he and his family were out of the city before he destroyed it. Noah was a righteous man among a world full of wicked people, Lot was somewhat righteous man in a city full of wicked people.
While this story is full of tragedy and evil, I want you to leave this morning understanding that God’s promise that he made to Abraham earlier in Genesis 15 still applied in spite of the evil found in Sodom and Gomorrah. Don’t miss this. God promised to bless Abraham and his family, and because of that he removed Lot’s family before he destroyed the city.
Hear me this morning, if you are in Christ God has not forgotten you. You are not on your own. His word is true. He is faithful to the promises that he made to you, and he will be as long as you live and even in death. He is a faithful God.
So what does this have to do with me in New Orleans?