Life Boat or Soup Kitchen?
Updated: Mar 16
How does God want us as believers to engage our city with the gospel? What does the Bible say about this? What is your approach to this? Think specifically about the Coronavirus pandemic – how does God want us to engage our city with the gospel as we all deal with Coronavirus? I have seen a wide range of responses to these question, and the answers generally fall between two extremes. I want to paint a picture of each of these two extremes…listen to these and see where you fall on this continuum. The Lifeboat The first extreme is what I want to call the “Lifeboat” mentality. The idea behind the “Lifeboat” imagery is that this world is bad, going to hell in a handbasket, and the Christians are like those in a lifeboat throwing a life preserver to the drowning people sinking in the ocean around them. Christians with this kind of thinking typically tend to be more isolated away from the city – all your friends are church friends, only good Christian influences. Think of the silly, exaggerated example of this in the Adam Sandler movie the WATERBOY in which Sandler plays a waterboy turned football player and his mama trying to protect her boy tells him: “school is the devil!” The Soup Kitchen The other extreme is what I am calling the “Soup Kitchen” mentality. The idea behind the “Soup Kitchen” imagery is the stereotype of the soup kitchen that serves the inner city homeless. Helping the hurting, the homeless, the down and out. Those with this approach are definitely doing a good work, but some of these serve with no particular reference to Christianity. They may lean towards an “everyone is going to heaven,” “all roads lead to God” kind of thinking. If they had a bumper sticker on their car it probably is one of those St. Francis bumper stickers that says “preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words”. Babylon + Atlanta So where are you? Do you think your more LIFEBOAT or more SOUP KITCHEN? What does God want for us? To help us answer this question, I want to look at a word that God gave to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah chapter 29. Jeremiah was prophesying to Israel at a time when the people living in Jerusalem were being carried away as exiles into Babylon. Babylon was one of the great cities of the ancient world. Huge, growing, population with a great diversity of people, who came to the city with a great diversity of beliefs. Compare Babylon to Atlanta – one of the largest cities in America, growing every year, full of great diversity of ethnicities and backgrounds and beliefs about God. We, like the Jews Jeremiah prophesied to, are the people of God. And, like the Jews, we are “exiles” in a land with people that don’t share the same beliefs or worldview or values that we have. We share a city, real estate, jobs, businesses, schools - but conduct life in a very different way. Build Houses What is the prophetic call for the people of God in this city? Coming into this scene, prior to chapter 29, Israel was being told by false prophets “don’t get too settled here in Babylon, we are going back to Jerusalem.” But the word from Jeremiah corrects this mindset, he says: “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.” God speaks to his people: you can’t just stay on the outskirts of the city, and withdraw your gifts and skill and love, away from the city. You are to participate in the life of the city. If I was going to take the 2 extremes we talked about earlier, this would be a word of correction to those of us on the lifeboat side - that we need to move more toward the city. We can’t just be in our Christian circle, with friends from church. We are to work, be in relationships with, to build lives together with the people of our city. I know the plans I have for you But there is more to this word from God. Look at verses 10 and 11: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. The command is stay and live in the city. Don’t just buy time until you go back to Jerusalem. This would have been a hard word to hear. Its like the dream is dead. The dream of being in Jerusalem, all of us being together as the people of God, worshiping God, life as we know it, that life has been destroyed. Verses 10 and 11 are God speaking words of comfort to his people, to say, listen, the dream is not dead, because I have plans for you…they may not be what you thought they were, but they are good plans. That future and that plan reflect that you are still the people of God. That has not changed. Maybe your location has changed. Maybe your friends have changed. But your hope, and your place in the family of God has not changed. This is us. We are those exiles. We are children of God, the people of God, in a city that doesn’t believe in this gospel, in this savior. And God is calling us, not just to wait it out until we get to heaven, to not just blend in. We are to love people, giving of ourselves to the city, AND giving glory to our father in heaven. If we go back to the 2 extremes we talked about earlier, this would be a word of correction to those of us on the soup kitchen side, to say that as we serve, boldly give glory to our father in heaven. Coronavirus The way we approach a situation like Coronavirus is not stand back, away from the city and say “these people are idiots”. It is to be part of this city: when they hurt, I hurt, because God has knit me together with this city, and I am praying healing, peace, wisdom for my city. I want to serve those in my city. I want to be a light from God that says to my neighbor, this thing has brought fear and uncertainty, but there is a Prince of Peace that wants to bring you not just peace for today, but a bedrock foundation to build your life on.
* This post is the beginning of the Church Planting South Dawson March Newsletter Follow the link for the complete March update.