If GRC picked up and left the community, how would our community feel? Would our city weep? Would anybody even notice? Would anybody care?
Given the increasing tensions many Christians feel between the biblical worldview and the values of our culture, our first reaction to those questions might be, “Of course they wouldn’t care. We stand against everything they are for.” But pause for just a second. Everything? Healthy families. Educated children. Support systems for people in need. Friendly neighbors who help out without prying or gossiping around the block?
It’s hard to imagine two cultures so diametrically opposed as Babylon and Israel in the 6th century BC. Polytheistic, unjust, pagan superpower marked by extreme cruelty versus monotheistic people serving a God of justice and compassion. Furthermore, Babylon had absolutely crushed Israel. Cities leveled. Untold war crimes and atrocities experienced. Deported and resettled. Exile. If anyone had cause to point out the different values and hostility between cultures it would be Israel during the Babylonian exile. But listen to what God speaks to them through the prophet Jeremiah:
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.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7)
Notice first, God was in charge of their cultural and historical moment, just like he is over ours today (Acts 17:24-27). Second, they were to embrace life wherever the Lord placed them. Third, they were to seek the peace and prosperity—literally, the shalom—of Babylon, pagan capital that it was. Shalom refers to peace, but more than the mere absence of hostility. Positively, it speaks to completeness, soundness, welfare, flourishing, where everything is in proper relationship to everything else, and all things are woven together in perfect harmony and delight. Simply put, it’s the way things ought to be. It is a product of God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. It comes ultimately through the gospel. They are to pray for the shalom of the city—their enemy—where God, in his sovereign providence, has placed them, because, fourth, their experience of shalom is bound up with the shalom of the wider community.
That has always been the case for God’s people. Beginning with the calling of Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), God’s people have always been called out from the world to be a blessing for the world. God doesn’t intend his people to practice their faith in isolation from the surrounding culture. Though resident aliens (1 Peter 2:11) with different faith and values from the community around us, we are to be in the world but not of it for the common good (Eph 6:10). We are salt and light, preserving and illuminating for the greater good of those around us to the glory of God (Matt 5:13-16).
This has individual and corporate implications. Each of us is to be salt and light, present for the good of others, wherever God has placed us throughout the city. How are you praying and seeking to be a blessing where you live, work, and play? What opportunities to lend a hand, extend an encouraging word, tutor a child, or show hospitality and build community are you taking for the sake of Christ and the good of the city? Corporately, our Diaconate is exploring opportunities to work with community partners to invest in at-risk kids, distribute food, renovate houses, and more. There’s a lot more we can do as we settle into our collective church home in Glen Rock.
One touch-point that’s coming up is the 125th Anniversary of Glen Rock on September 14. GRC will have a booth at this celebration to seek to get to know people and pray for them. Be praying with us, even now, for connections to be made that day and for us to be a positive presence in the community. Come by the booth if you’re in Glen Rock that afternoon and to say “hi” and meet some people who might be interested in our church. And pray generally for our city (cities) and for GRC to continually grow—collectively and individually—as a missional people who are a blessing to those around us.
Steve Sage is the Pastor of Discipleship.