Where do you live? There are two ways you could answer this question. You could answer the question based on the numerical population of the area in which you receive mail, or you could answer the question based on something else entirely. I’d like to take a few minutes to talk to you about the reality of cities, and city living.
Mankind’s City or God’s City?
“We’re going to reach our city for Christ.” Several years ago, that phrase regularly came out of my mouth as I sought to build an organization around that ‘mission‘. By ‘city’, I meant the urban area on a map (which I was preoccupied with) that had a name and boundary that human beings came up with. As a result, I was preoccupied with seeing that specific zip code undergo physical renewal. We did many projects with this end in mind. In general, I thought that Jesus would simply be a means to my stated end of ‘reaching’ my city. While ‘reaching’ my city for Christ was (and is) a major focus in ‘missional‘ religious circles, I now recognize that I never stopped to ask if my definition of ‘city’ was the same definition of the Lord’s definition of ‘city’. What is a city? That’s a great question.
Mankind has a tendency to carve things up, give it a name & put a border around it, and make some laws that only apply to that specific area. Everything that mankind touches has this quality. Earthly cities and nations, and institutional religious entities are a picture of this. Mankind thinks highly of what he creates, and as a result, assumes God should sanction and bless these creations. There is only one ‘city’, however, that is eternal and lasting. All other man-made cities are only temporary.
A casual study of once historically significant cities will show us that today’s cities, that many of our missional brothers and sisters are desperately trying to revitalize, will be tomorrow’s ghost towns (Pompeii, Sodom, Babylon, Ann Arbor, Detroit, etc…) Those who move to man-made cities with the hopes of finding a happy utopia, or creating one, are destined for heartbreak and disappointment.
Man-made cities are a shadow of the one true city
As a student of history, I have noticed a powerful trend in societies of all kinds. Amazingly, this trend seems to span across time and culture. All societies tend to begin as predominately rural agricultural societies. Households are separate and spread out from one another. Over time, however, people begin to gather together in urban centers and cities are born. Eventually, the majority of that society’s population becomes urban in nature. This happens in every civilization over time without fail. I find that historic reality to be fascinating.
I am a firm believer that everything which can be observed as true in the natural world, also has a greater spiritual reality that it corresponds to. In the book of Genesis, we find the raw ‘building materials’ of the one true city separate and unassembled. The scene is very ‘rural’, so to speak.
Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; the bedellium and the onyx stone are there. (Genesis 2:10-12, NASB)
This is one of those passages that is easy to read over without realizing the significance of it. There is a very profound reason why these precious stones are mentioned in the description of Eden there in the beginning of the scriptures. Obviously, it doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but just enough to let us know there is something special about these stones that can be found in that land. The gold of that land is described as being ‘good’.
If we skip ahead in the story, we eventually find out what happened to those precious stones. They eventually were excavated and put together into a grand dwelling. To be more specific, they are the very building materials of the city of God. This account gives us a bit more detail about the building materials that were used to build this city:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband…And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper…The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass. The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation stone was jasper; the second, sapphire, the third, chalcedony (onyx)…And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. (Rev. 21:2,11,18-19,21, NASB)
Wow, that is some city! We could spend a lot of time getting into the details of this city, but hopefully you get the point. The raw materials of this city, good gold & onyx (also called chalcedony) mentioned in the garden of Eden back in Genesis, are mentioned again in Revelation 21. This time, however, more stones are mentioned. In the description of Revelation 21, we see that these precious stones have been assembled together into a beautiful city.
This ‘city’, however, is really a female. This city is referred to as a ‘she’. The city is compared to a ‘bride’ that has been prepared for a bridegroom. This city is the very bride of Jesus Christ. This city is made up of precious living stones which are really the saints of the living God. Brothers and sisters, we are the very building materials that are being assembled together to form this city!
The Lord is the first one to conceive the concept of ‘city.’ He is the original city builder. The cities that mankind assembles are simply a shadow of this one true city. In the same way that societies eventually move from rural to urban centers, the Lord takes His precious stones (you and me), and builds us together with others precious stones to form this city.
There is something attractive and intriguing about the life of a city. Cities have their own energy and culture. Cities are storehouses of activity and life. Commerce and essential life transactions occur there. Cities are a place where people commune with one another in proximity. This is why people move to major city centers, and why cities are major tourist attractions.
With that said, many people don’t want to live in cities. Cities can be terrifying places for a variety of reasons. Fallen mankind has taken that which was meant to be centers of life, and have made them centers of death and destruction. As a result, many prefer the allusion of security and peace that comes with the isolation of rural life. As one who used to work in a prison, however, I can tell you that solitary confinement away from others is not what we were made for. It is simply not natural.
In order to move into the city the Lord is building, a couple of things must occur. First, the Lord has to take us out of the man made crime ridden cities that we have been used to living in. He then brings us into a wilderness for a season to prepare us for true city life. This is not where we belong forever, however. We were made for urban living. We were made for the city the Lord is building. In order to make the move from rural obscurity to urban living, however, something essential must take place. This will be the subject of my next blog post.
I recently observed a precious family make the move from rural life to the city of God that I am living in. Their act of faith and desire for the life of the city has been an inspiration to us. Their move to the city has been a demonstration to us that the Lord truly is building His lasting enduring city. I’d like to leave you with a few introspective questions:
- Are you trapped in a crime ridden area simply trying to make the best of your living conditions?
- Are you trying to rebuild your old neighborhood?
- Are you currently living in rural seculsion ocassionaly taking vacations into the city?
- Are you being transplanted into the life and flow of His city?