“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters … multiply there, and do not decrease. 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.” From Jeremiah 29:4-7.
Almost without exception, the context of Jeremiah 29 is undisputed. Jeremiah the prophet is writing to those who are about to be conquered by the Babylonians. They will soon face either slaughter or slavery. Jeremiah’s words are encouraging (How many graduation cards have you seen splashed with the words of Jeremiah 29:11?), but – if we’re going to be honest – only in the “big picture” sense. The short-term news is sad at best, and could be described as terrible.
You and I are blessed to live in or near Paducah. As I’ve been pondering our potential arts ministry, I’ve become increasingly aware of what a special place Paducah is. It truly is. I snapped these photos Monday at dusk – it looked almost like a scene from Dickens’ London. Charming indeed.
So our context is not the same as Babylon. But it’s worth our serious consideration that this passage may apply to us in several ways nonetheless, because we are called to live near people who don’t always see the world exactly as we do. We’re not “exiles” in the same sense that Israel was going to understand exile – that’s for sure – but most of us do perceive the surrounding culture (even in the Bible Belt) as becoming more and more skeptical of the Christian worldview and way of life.
I completely understand that we’re not New York City or L.A., but I also know that the more urban center (“downtown”) of Paducah can become for some of us (who don’t live there) a bit of a foreign territory. “Those other people live down there.” It’s not as safe perhaps, and maybe not as comfortable, to involve myself with the problems of the city. Maybe we just feel awkward investing ourselves too far beyond our own neighborhood or church building.
In light of the truths of this passage, and in regard to our “city,” how might God have us live?
Consider trying these on for size:
- Get involved in serving Paducah. Jail ministry. Emergency shelters. At-risk youth. Loving the poor and marginalized. Crisis pregnancy ministry. English as a second language. Invest spiritually in Paducah. Many young adults have concluded that evangelicals don’t really want to serve the down-and-out. Prove them wrong. (Please stay tuned for more from our emerging Reaching Team!)
- Stay on top of Paducah. Read. (Leaders are readers.) Follow the news. Participate in politics. Promote the general welfare of our community. Serve on an association or board that impacts Paducah life for its good. (Back to Jeremiah: Notice how productive the Lord calls us to be. No time to waste.)
- Be the church outside the church. Maybe that instrumental ensemble or worship band should choose a public park as its next venue instead of our campus. Why not? People love a musical event that’s done excellently. Open with a song designed to draw people in.
- Wherever and however you can, make our city clean and beautiful. Those who broadly influence culture notice when we’re committed to the things that matter to them. From picking up trash, to supporting education and the arts. (We’re the smallest city in America blessed with the treasure of a professional symphony orchestra. How cool is that?)
- Celebrate Paducah life! Attend our community festivals and volunteer to help make them happen. Next month we’ll be invaded by quilters from all over the globe. Where will we be? Hopefully not hiding out until the storm passes. (Sometimes God brings the mission field to us, and even a free bottle of water can be an icebreaker.)
- Invite people you don’t know into your home and show them that Christians live out grace. Be a voice of grace in Paducah. Exhibit grace in your speech, demeanor, and humble spirit. Be hopeful and positive and life-giving whenever and however you can.
- Pray for Paducah. Regularly. Fervently. From the heart.
Pastor Tim Keller says it like this: “The church has to be everywhere there are people.” I like that. Let’s be there! Today an estimated eight million people move into cities every two months. We don’t want to miss the city. The city is where the largest unreached people groups live. The city needs Christ, so the city needs us.