Seeking the Shalom of the City

Note: The text below is from a sermon I preached last Sunday that unfortunately didn’t record. Happy New Year to all!

On New Year’s Day, many people make resolutions of things they want to do or become. In past years, I’ve made extremely elaborate resolutions, but this year I wanted to keep it simple:

“Be present. Wherever I go, I want to be all there.”

I don’t know about you, but I tend to rush, and always think about the “next” thing. I’m always getting ready to live, but am never really living. But really, there was never a time when my life was not now, nor will there ever be. So I want to make a change in the new year, to be fully present, to live in the moment. I think that as I work on this, I’ll know what it is to live.

And this is the same message that was given to the Israelites. At the time of Jeremiah, they were in the midst of the Exile. They had continually disobeyed God, so God removed them from the land they were promised, and they were taken captive in a foreign city called Babylon.

Babylon wasn’t just any old city. It was filled with bloodthirsty, evil people. God’s people hadn’t accepted the idea that they would be staying there; they were hoping that things would suddenly change and they would escape from these circumstances. So God spoke to the Israelites through Jeremiah:

“ ‘Build houses and settle down, plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons & daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons & 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 29:5-8)

While their attitude is “We are tired of being here,” God responds and says, “You will find my faithfulness right where you are. Wherever you go, there you are. This is it.” He tells them to settle down and engage with the culture, relate to the people around them and pray for their welfare, which is a crazy statement because Babylon was the enemy, representing everything that was opposed to God’s purposes.

This was the message for the Israelites, but I believe it’s also the message that God has for us today.

Think about how you view your time here in Boston. I want to challenge you, you’re not just here to vacation, to be a student, to work for a time. While Boston is a transient city, it’s too easy to check out and be thinking about the “next” – your next move, grad school, a future job.

Today, examine yourself as an individual, to check your heart, to press into this city, these people, here and now.There is a reason why God has you in Boston – Boston has some incredible qualities.

  1. Boston is Diverse – the nations represented here are such a gift. 1 in 3 people living in Cambridge was born in another country. Delve into a diversity of relationships here, because we can learn so much about ourselves and the world from the people we meet.
  2. Boston is an Educational hub, with over 300,000 college students in the city, and Harvard, MIT, BU, BC right here in our midst. As one of the smallest world-class cities, people of influence live, study, and work here.

Boston is a place where people come, get trained and sent all over the world. That’s why Pastor Tom Griffith of River of Life Church says that Boston is meant to be a training ground for the nations. What you learn in Boston will be good anywhere in the world.

So I want to challenge you: Press into the city. Here you are – this is it. Whether you are here for a few years, a decade, a lifetime, my prayer is that you would lay hold of what God has for you in Boston

I really learned the importance of living in the moment on the World Race, when I traveled to eleven countries in eleven months. It was amazing to meet people and become knit in to various communities all over the world, but as our journey progressed, it was draining to have to leave and say goodbye at the end of each month. As a result of this, we started to guard our hearts and not invest fully in the people and communities we were a part of.

Emmi, our contact with the Lighthouse in Action Ministry in Thailand, gave us some incredible advice. When we arrived, she encouraged us to ask God to give you his whole heart for Thailand, for these people, for this place. Maybe some of you need to ask God to give you his heart for Boston, for these people, for this place. 

However, God doesn’t just leave the message there, at “Settle down. Build houses. Have families.” He challenges us further, by saying: “Look outward. Take your eyes off of yourself & look around.”

In verse 7, He says: “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.”

When look at the original language written in, the word for “peace” is a really descriptive word – probably one of my favorite words of all time. It’s the word “SHALOM.” It means far more than what most people think of peace as the absence of war.

In his book Generous Justice, Tim Keller writes that “Shalom is complete reconciliation, the state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension – physical, emotional, social and spiritual – because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy.” Shalom is wholeness, harmony, completion, the way things ought to be.

Dream with me – what would it look like if there were shalom in Boston? There would be strong marriages, secure children, and we would treasure differences in other nations & races. There would be no violence or shootings, calm drivers in rush hour, and people would wait in line patiently at Starbucks. Everything and everyone would be in order.

There was shalom at the beginning of the bible, and there will be shalom at the end. But there’s one thing that has spoiled this shalom – that is sin. The problem is that the world is broken. But the good news is that we don’t just have to sit with eyes in the sky waiting until Jesus returns.

God calls us ON MISSION, to participate in this redeeming of creation. He could just “zap” it and make everything all right, but rather he chooses to partner with each one of us to make it happen. He gives us dreams, passions, and plans to partner with him in this journey of restoration and redemption.

So while Babylon is an evil city, God tells the Israelites to bring Jeru-shalom “God-shalom” into Babylon itself. This is key. This is what we’re called to do here today in the midst of the craziness, brokenness we see all over Boston – we are here to bring Jeru-shalom “God-shalom” to Boston.

So how do we do this? How do we live in the moment, bringing God’s shalom wherever we go?

You may be thinking – “I don’t have time to do extra things in my life.” But this is not about doing more, it’s about seeking God right where you are, and asking God how you can be a blessing in the present moment. Wherever you go, there you are. This is it.

Today, I want to offer three ways we can seek the shalom of the city right where we are:

1. SEE people around you

That means – Take your eyes off of yourself, your shoes, your iphone. In your free time, don’t just pull out your earbuds and tune out. You are here for something bigger – to bring the shalom. Where people are hopeless, you called to bring hope. People are desperate, dying for love, a love that acts, a love that does.

I’m convinced that God wants to use us in crazy ways to bring shalom, if only we ask him. Because really, that’s what Jesus did – God became a man and moved into the city. Into our lives, into our brokenness. So our greatest call is to do that too.

So as you go about your day, look around and SEE. Then ask God – how can I show your love to these people?

I was standing in Harvard Square one day and asked God if there was anyone who needed encouragement. I felt led to talk to a young man who was standing next to a wall. It turns out that he was in a really difficult place – he grew up going to church, but then had gone away from his faith and was really struggling with some addictions. After our conversation, he seemed to be encouraged and pursue being a part of a community of faith again.

I didn’t see him for a few years, and then the other day I was sitting in Harvard Square again and saw him. He told me that the evening when we conversed, he heard this small voice in his heart to stop at the wall and wait. That’s the moment that I came up to him. He also said that the one conversation we had had changed his life – over the next few months he gave up his addictive practices and was now in a much better place, with a job and now involved in an Orthodox community in Brookline.

What’s crazy about this is what God can do when we make ourselves available. Will you be one to see others around you?

2. PRAY for the city

1 Thessalnonians 5:17 tells us to pray unceasingly. But how do we do this?

Really, it’s simple. As you go about your day, pray for people and places you see. Prayer is just talking to God –  it’s a constant conversation in your head to bring shalom to the world around you.

So when you go to a restaurant, pray a blessing over it. When you hear sirens, pray for the situation. In your workplace, when you walk to the copier, pray for people you see. I used to walk around and pray for the families that came into Trader Joe’s – if I saw people arguing, I prayed for peace. No one even has to know – you’re a secret Christian on mission to bring peace to the world.

One day I was in Harvard Square and came up the escalator, there was a man that was yelling and shouting. While most people were turning away and ignoring him, I stopped and stood to the side and prayed for him. WIthin the next five minutes, his entire countenance changed to the point where he actually let out a huge smile.

Be confident that the prayers you pray make a huge difference. There are things that happen through prayer that wouldn’t happen otherwise. Prayers have reverberating impacts on people and the world around us.

I also want to invite you to join us at 1:00pm to pray for the city – we set our watches/iphones and at 1:00pm each day there are dozens of people who pray for the city of Boston, for awakening and God’s love to permeate this place.

3. SERVE others

The church is not designed to be a spiritual country club where we come, sing songs and then go on our merry way. We’re here for something bigger. We’re here to serve the city. And when you come serve rather than to rule, then people eventually ask questions.

An example of this is something that happened in Portland. In 2008, the churches approached the city officials to find out what the greatest needs of the city were. They identified six areas, and then the churches mobilized 26,000 volunteers work alongside them to improve these areas of need.

At the end of this, the Mayor of Portland told the Christians, “We’re so glad that you’re here.” This is a beautiful thing – look at what can happen when we seek shalom of others.

So I want to challenge you –

  • Would your workplace say “We’re so glad you’re here.”
  • Would your neighborhood say “We’re so glad you live here.”
  • Would the city of Cambridge say to our church, “We’re so glad you’re here” or would they even notice if all of us packed up and left?

Like God’s message to the Israelites in Jeremiah, this is a time to learn to bloom where you’re planted. You have been sent to Boston, and I’m so glad you are here. Jump right in, and treat this place like you will live here your whole life. Immerse yourself this culture, these people. If you live like you’re just passing through, then you will just pass through your whole life.

You’re here now, so settle in and make the best of it. Live for others. SEE, PRAY, and SERVE this city.

So today, after you finish reading this (and I know it’s long so thank you for reading it!) look around you and ask – Where are people not flourishing? Then move towards it, give your life to that thing. Seek the flourishing of the people you’re with, whether it’s your coworkers, classmates, or strangers on the bus.

You carry the shalom, the peace that this world needs, so ask God how you can plant it and make it bloom wherever you go. Because wherever you go, there you are. This is it. So, be all there.

Lighting the Night

 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:14-15)

In 1630, as the Puritans were traveling to America, John Winthrop proclaimed that their future community would be a city on a hill, a light for the world to see true Christian charity. Last Sunday evening, a group of us had a chance to step into Boston’s inheritance that John Winthrop spoke of.

Gathering at the gazebo in Boston Common, seven bundled kingdom warriors came bearing candles. We huddled together to strike the matches and set the wicks alight. Although the frigid night air swirled around us and tried to snuff our lights out, Christ Otto found a few discarded cups to guard the light from the harsh wind, and soon scents of hot chocolate and coffee wafted around us like scented candles.

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We tromped through the snow bearing torches of these Starbucks cups, feeling the crusty ice crunching beneath our feet. We tread confidently, carrying the same good news of great joy for all the people as the angel that bore the news of Jesus’ birth over 2,000 years ago (Luke 2:10).

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This was a different sort of prayer walk. Rather than the usual standing and interceding together, we found ourselves singing carols, declaring Christ’s reign in this place. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king!…Come and adore him, born the king of angels. Oh come let us adore him.”

What impressed me most was the number of people who came to us to ask what we were doing. Passers-by stopped their conversations to listen and take it in, despite our lack of practice and my mumbling of the lyrics. We were blessed by the joy on stranger’s faces and cheery calls of “Merry Christmas.”

We traveled to a street deemed the combat zone of Boston, known for its crime, prostitution, and drug trafficking. We spoke prayers aloud, then continued singing. A man on the street came up to us with a tear in his eye. “I don’t know when I have heard people singing Christmas carols before.” We stopped and prayed with him in the dark. He was touched by us, as we with him.

The thought came to me: This is the way it’s supposed to be. When Christ’s light shines, people come to see. They can’t help but pause from their hurried lives to watch, to listen, and to soak up the love that lights the night.

My friend Christ Otto told me later that this was one of the most significant evenings of his time in Boston. This says a lot, because Christ has been laboring in Boston for nearing six years.

And so we sing, holding up His illuminating beam in our hands and hearts, declaring the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. We band together, joining our distinct lights as one until the day when the city of Boston does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord will give it light, and the Lamb its lamp, and the nations walk by its light. (Revelation 21:23).

Yes, here we are, love lighting the night in Boston.Image