I pastor a church in Southern California. California has been the subject of criticism from conservatives for a number of years, but especially in recent days, I sense that my home State is near to being declared unclean by many Christians who live here. Tired of the taxes, restrictions, and progressive ideologies; Christians are flocking to their own “safe spaces” where conservative values are still upheld.
Believers in Jesus Christ are free to come and go as they please. As a pastor, I try to encourage friends to consider several factors when making a big decision like moving out of State. What are your primary motives (are you fleeing from something, or called somewhere)? How will the move affect your family? How will it affect your church? Are there solid churches nearby where you’ll be moving, or is your Christian fellowship going to be strained by the decision? Our Lord Jesus gives us a great deal of liberty when it comes to these decisions, but there’s much to consider along the way.
I want to encourage you no matter where you live (and for no matter how long you’re there) to do one thing, though: Love where you live. Jesus Christ calls us as his followers to love our neighbors. The people he had in mind weren’t those who shared our view of the family, sexual ethics, religion, or the economy. Our neighbors include the very people who sometimes get on our nerves. Jesus even took it a step further when he said that his followers were obligated to love their enemies. To pray for those who treated them spitefully.
Loving the Place Means Loving the People
I fear that the more time we spend complaining about where God has us, the less time we’ll spend loving the people God has placed around us. In fact, I’d say it’s impossible to do a good job loving the neighbors you frequently grumble about. Now, this doesn’t mean we can’t disagree with the world around us. Our Lord Jesus was without compromise in his engagement of the world, but he wasn’t without compassion. He disagreed with the same people he sat around the table with over a meal. In the Gospels, it seems he spent more time chastising the religious institution that failed to pursue sinners than he did lamenting the presence of sinners in Judea. They were the mission field, he was the physician. The fields are white today, and instead of heading into the harvest, we complain about the sick.
Recently, Senator Ben Sasse wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal where he highlighted the work of social scientist Richard Florida. Sasse borrowed the categories of mobile, stuck, and rooted, from Florida’s work. He noted that many Americans are no longer choosing to be rooted in their communities. If we’re broke, we’re stuck (often where we don’t want to live), and many times left complaining about our environment. If we have means, we’re mobile and can travel to whatever mecca we might choose, someplace where our affinities are welcomed, and we aren’t treated like strangers.
What we have less of today are people who are choosing to be rooted in their community, seeking to be salt in a wounded city. This may even mean choosing to forego the best economic decision, for the sake of your neighbors. This type of thing sounds crazy to most people today, but the gospel of Jesus Christ gives Christians the ability to be rooted because it teaches us to put the good of our neighbor above our own desire for comfort. Ours is the God who planted deep roots in a dark place, surrounded by religious hypocrisy and moral depravity, because he loved us. In Christ’s choosing to be rooted, he became poverty stricken so that he might make his neighbors rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
Pray For Where You Live
In light of this, let’s pray for the places God has us. Loving where you live looks like bringing it before the Lord in prayer. Give thanks to God for the good, and pray for him to change the things that cause offense. Speak well of the place where God has you. Especially for the sake of sharing the gospel, this is extremely important. When we constantly grumble about where we live, and who we live by, we begin to create an us-them mentality that will keep us from intentionally pursuing our neighbors. If we can demonize them, it becomes easy to justify not reaching over the fence to offer them our love. After all, people can be saved, but demons are beyond the grace of God.
Pursue the good of the area where God has you for the time being. Like God told Jeremiah, “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.” (Jer. 29:7) Christians are strangers and exiles who are distinct but not separate from the world. Because Jesus chose to love sinners and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty by reaching down and lifting us up from the slough of iniquity, we can be a people who love those still sinking in it. Dear Christian, God came and lived among us and he loved us. Let that reality shape the way you view your neighbors, and the city you live in.