The topic of the first lesson was City - The World That Is. Nice and vague. But essentially, it uses Jeremiah 29:4-14 to show how God wants us to live in the city. Many interesting ideas and topics came up, some of which I had never even thought of before.
In 586 BC, Jerusalem was captured and destroyed by the Babylonians. These invaders took the best of Jewish society - the scholars, professionals, leaders etc - and carried them off to Babylon. Timothy Keller points out that the Jewish exiles had three options for how to respond to their new environment.
Firstly, they could listen to the false prophets who were telling them to have as little contact as possible with the city, utilising it for economic gain but separating themselves from it. Secondly, they could take the advice of the Babylonians, who encouraged them to assimilate into Babylonian society. Lastly, they could listen to God and follow His instructions, which came to them through the prophet Jeremiah:
"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. 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. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,[a] 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.
10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[b] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
Jeremiah 29:4-14 (ESV)
God wanted the exiles to live in the city of Babylon and settle there permanently - to pretty much do life there. This was in opposition to what the false prophets of that time were teaching (verse 4).
God also commanded the Jews to love the city and to pray for it (verse 5). I love Wellington, but how often do I pray for the city, its people, and their welfare? Almost never, and in no way was I exiled here. It's about time we think outside our own bubble and out into the community where God has placed us. And that's also important to consider. Just as it was God who sent the Jewish people into exile, so it is God who has ordained the cities we live in.
At this point, Keller notes that cities were originally designed by God. They were intended as places of refuge, justice, cultural development, thinking, and as spiritual centres. But like so many other things, sin has broken this design.
However, as Christians who know and love God, we must try to bring God's love and peace to broken cities and their inhabitants, and in this way help the city to prosper.
Keller also points out that Christians should create and cultivate culture in the place where they live. Undoubtedly, much of the culture in cities today does not glorify God, but instead of just bemoaning this fact we must encourage and create culture that does. Support local artists, musicians, actors, writers, and other creative people whom you know have a heart for God; endorse and encourage them. Word of mouth, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other tools are all powerful tools for changing culture.
Also, as some very smart person once said: "Culture is defined by the church." If the culture in the city is bad, look at what the churches are like; are they readily offering an alternative?
Finally, Timothy Keller says we must ultimately encourage people to seek God, for it is only in Him that their brokenness can be mended, and their sins forgiven; and only then can they can be reconciled with Him.
And the only way we can encourage people to seek God is by evangelism. Tell people the Good News. It's not called the Good News for nothing.
So you have to ask yourself: when was the last time you prayed for the place that you live in?
Until next time :)