Where do I even begin? I suppose this is the problem with taking such a massive break between posts.
As you can see from my last post, I have been spending my summer vigorously getting to know my city better. Truth be told, I already knew it pretty well, but getting to know it better certainly couldn’t hurt. While all of this has been going on, I have been reading Deuteronomy, a book filled with laws and regulations given to Israel before they entered into the promise land, as well as several books concerning cities. Between Timothy Keller’s “Why God Made Cities” and “Centre Church”, Matt Carter’s and Darrin Patrick’s “For the City”, Jon M. Dennis’ “Christ+City” and Darrin Patrick’s “Church Planter”, I’ve been a pretty busy fella. The workload has been intense, but the insights have been profound, and my time in Deuteronomy has been more than a little exciting.
One doesn’t always find a book of things to do and things not to do overly exciting, but from my time reading, it has been so much more than that. It’s been a book on Worship.
Deuteronomy is more than just a book of regulations and laws. It isn’t kidding about prospering in your land by following the commandments given inside of the book. The problem begins when we take these things at face value and we fail to see what is at the core of them. Almost every single chapter of Deuteronomy is filled with the same phrase, telling you not to forget what God has done for you. It is a constant reminder of just who God is, and what he has done. In chapter six, you get what is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of scripture. It is the call to holistic worship. It says that we do not worship Jesus in one area of our lives, and then ignore him in others. And yes, I do say Jesus, because Jesus quotes this very same scripture when asked what the greatest commandment is, placing himself at the core of it. “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The following verses ask that they be written on your hands, on your head, on the gates of your cities, the door to your house and that they should be a part of your daily routine. These words were meant to permeate all facets of life. Jesus is Lord and no part of our life is separate from our worship of him. It is with this in mind that Deuteronomy goes on to tell us how that worship takes place. Things like communal responsibilities, honesty, integrity, how we treat the poor/marginalised, how we treat strangers. These things are all well and good, but in themselves are not enough. We don’t do these things to earn grace, and we don’t do them for God. We do these things because we have received grace, and we do them because of Jesus.
You see, Deuteronomy isn’t about cities thriving under the work of our own hands. In fact, the cities in Deuteronomy were taken away from wicked men because they worshipped the works of their own hands. Deuteronomy is about the thriving of cities under the revelation of God by people worshipping in all areas of their lives. The great miracle of Jesus’ day wasn’t just his healing the sick, it was the transformation that took place in the hearts and the minds of the people who would go so far as to tear the roof of a house open to get people who needed Jesus to Jesus. People who were willing to go above and beyond for the sake of others because of Jesus and his grace. The Gospel is the power to change the lives of all men. Deuteronomy 12 can be summarised as, “Revel not in what you have done to impress God, but remember what God has done for you.” God literally says that he detests those willing to trample over and use others in an attempt to impress him; that he is far more honoured and glorified by those who sacrifice of themselves for the sake of others because they remember what God has done for them. It’s the picture of grace. There is nothing you can do to earn it because earning is completely the antithesis to grace. Grace does not know the word earn, they don’t exist in the same realm. Grace is unwarranted favour and when you receive it, you work hard to give it, not because you are trying to earn it, but because it is something to freely give, something to freely pass on.
When we stop remembering what God has done for us, when we turn from his word that reminds us over and over again as to who he is and what he has done, cities suffer for it. Israel neglected to make God the Lord over all areas of their life and their people suffered for it, and their cities, like the cities of those before them, were taken away from them by Babylon (Amos and Jeremiah). Seventy years later, they get their city back, they rededicate themselves to God and his word and a mere 12 years later they neglect it again, refusing to teach it to their children and once more, people (cities) suffer for it (Nehemiah). Even in Jesus’ day the same things happen. In Mark 11-13, people become more concerned with impressing God with power and wealth that they completely neglect their worship. God does not become the Lord of all areas of life, and the people suffer for it. Jesus’ disciples try to placate him by reminding him how amazing a building the temple is. “Hey, Jesus, I know your visit didn’t go the way you planned, but check out the temple. You gotta admit, it’s pretty boss.” Jesus tells them that he has no interest in the temporary work of the hands. That he has no interest in the works of the hands of men designed to impress God with their own ego, that it is the things built in the Spirit and in Truth that will last forever while all other things fade away. Jesus uses verses from Daniel, a book written during the Babylonian occupation, to emphasise his point. Babylon, a once proud nation, that revelled in their own power, lost to the ages. He speaks of Rome sacking the Temple, a mighty nation and the house of God, worshipped for being a grand house, both torn down and no more.
Spirit and truth last forever. Our cities will thrive not by the works of our hands, natural disasters and any number of things can undo that. But a people dedicated to the revelation of Jesus Christ in everything they do is a boon.