Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Plight of Urban America is the Fault of the Church!

The plight of urban America (including urban Greensboro) is the fault of the Church! That may sound shocking to some of you, but I am fully convinced of it. In talking about urban revitalization in recent days with the City of Greensboro, The Greensboro News and Record, and others, we hear much about the plague of drug addiction, homelessness, prostitution, alcoholism, "predatory businesses," and panhandling. These are symptoms, not the root cause. The root cause is spiritual lostness. Spiritual lostness flourishes unchecked in urban centers primarily because God's people have fled to the suburbs and rural territories to escape the ugliness of the city, rather than infiltrating society with a purifying influence for Christ.

Remember Nehemiah. The Persian king Artaxerxes asked him why he was so downcast, and he said, "Why should my face not be sad when the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, lies desolate and its gates have been consumed by fire?" (Neh. 2:3). His resolution to remedy the problem was, "Send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it." The king granted his request, and Nehemiah went and began to survey the city. He said to the people of Judah, "You see the bad situation we are in ... Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jersualem so that we will no longer be a reproach." And they began to work to bring new life to the city. They faced many obstacles and much discouragement, both internally and externally. One of those obstacles was that "the city was large and spacious, but the people in it were few" (7:4). So Nehemiah proposed a solution: "The people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem ... and the people blessed all the men who volunteered to live in Jersualem" (11:1-2).

Brothers and sisters, the day has come when the Church of Jesus Christ must no longer be commuters. It is no longer sufficient for us to travel into the city for work, worship and commerce, and then flee back to safety of suburbia. The need of this day is for an incarnational witness. We must get back into the city and plant ourselves for the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom. It is time for us to take the same strategy we use for overseas missions and implement it in our own cities. When we send missionaries to foreign fields, we expect them to live among those whom they seek to reach, to learn their language, to understand their way of life, and to build authentic relationships through which the gospel can spread. This is far different from the posture of most Christians in America. And so is it too much to ask in our day what Nehemiah did in his day-- for one out of ten to move back into the cities for Christ's sake, and the other nine of ten combine their resources to help provide for the ones who are willing to do so? Let us pray for this.

Remember that when Christ travelled through the cities, "Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest'" (Matthew 9:36-38). And remember also that the very next thing Jesus did was to summon His twelve disciples and He gave them authority and He sent them out (Matthew 10). So let us not ask God to send others, when it may very well be one, twelve, or one of every ten, of us that He intends to use for His purposes in the city.

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