Download our vision book
“Base your happiness on your hope in Christ.” (Rom. 12:12a. JBP)
“Jesus…anointed with the oil of joy.” (Heb. 1:9c)
“Look! I will recreate Jerusalem as a place of happiness, and her people shall be a joy!” (Is. 65:18 TLB)
In the last two chapters I have said much about the joy that our God brings to our lives. Christians have a happy heart. This is the direct result of experiencing God’s love, being forgiven of sins, infilled with the Holy Spirit, incorporated into the Father’s family, and gifted to serve alongside fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to further the purposes of God for this earth.
The Bible is full of joy. The sovereign God who has all things in hand is worthy of constant praise. In reading the Psalms and the restoration passages of the prophets I am overcome with the sense of majesty and joy there is in God our Father. This is carried on through the New Testament.
Even nature bursts into joyous praise at the thought of God coming as King to “set the world aright” as English theologian Tom Wright often says. (Ps. 96:10-13)
Besides nature being excited, so too humanity’s peace, happiness and salvation evidences the gospel announcement that our God reigns, that is, He is King. (Is.52:7 NASB)
The church gets to deliver this happiness to cities through the gospel.
Every city needs to see and experience a happy church living and declaring the good news. If the church is not inhabited by happy people, then what we have is a truncated gospel that will not be attractive to the wider community. If the gospel does not excite us it will not excite the city.
In chapter two I referred to Isaiah’s vision for a new heavens and new earth described in Isaiah 65:17-25. This vision comes to a climax in Revelation 21-22. Let’s look at this portion of scripture again.
GOD AS CREATOR, REDEEMER AND RESTORER.
“For see, I am creating new heavens and a new earth—so wonderful that no one will even think about the old ones anymore. Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation. Look! I will recreate Jerusalem as a place of happiness, and her people shall be a joy! And I will rejoice in Jerusalem and in my people; and the voice of weeping and crying shall not be heard there anymore.” (TLB)
Three times this passage speaks of God as creator. We know He created the whole cosmos in Genesis 1, but as redeemer and restorer He has also created the new heaven and the new earth, and in addition, He has created a city, Jerusalem, as a place of happiness.
This was no surface happiness but a creation that involved His redemptive work of healing the pain of the city. There would be no more weeping or crying. (65:19)
This of course was fulfilled on the cross when Jesus rose again as the first fruits of the new creation. The old has truly passed away. The outworking of the gospel is that all who are in Christ are now a new creation, and the old has indeed passed away and NEW THINGS have come. (2 Cor. 5:17-19)
The “new things” include the ministry of reconciliation which is a vital work in this world of alienation. The gospel reconciles all things to Jesus. This is the work of the new creation, ie., the church. (Col.1:29-20)
Over the years it has been a joy to see the church at work going to the people and places experiencing pain in our city. Lives have been redeemed, marriages and families reconciled and the city made a happier place.
I am sorry to say I have also seen the church alienated from each other and the pain in the city increasing with few exercising the ministry of reconciliation.
The resurrection of Jesus marked the beginning of the creation of the new heavens and new earth where once again heaven would overlap with the earth until climaxed at the return of Jesus. It also marks the creation of the church at Pentecost. (Acts 2; Eph. 2:15) This new creation church would exercise the ministry of reconciliation. The result would be cities created for happiness.
This might all sound impossible when we look at the current situation of a divided church in a broken world. All I can say is “yes,” the challenges do seem great, but God’s word is clear.
In the nineties I heard the story of the growing revival in the city of Cali in the South American nation of Columbia. The drug lords seemed to rule with the authorities impotent in the face of daily murders and violence. Things came to a head when one of the pastors who stood against this evil was shot and killed. Pastors across the city were shocked. They agreed to gather and pray, which they did by filling a stadium to pray through the night. These gatherings continued each quarter. The result from this unity and prayer was a city wide revival that saw many added to the church and a decrease in violence and other social problems.
I had the joy of hosting the pastor's widow on a visit to Australia. Ruth Ruibal is a remarkably humble person and impacted wherever she went. Someone pointed out to her that her city of Cali still had violence and was far from perfect even after years of revival. She replied by saying that was true, but that as a result of the revival it is far better than it was. Yes, still far from perfect but better than it was!
Again I have had the privilege of seeing the gospel at work in many communities and cities around the world. None of these places became “perfect” but all were better off than before. Impact continues where the church remains in a posture of humble unified servanthood. However where the church, even though it once knew revival, loses focus the city suffers.
No city is perfectly happy, but it can be happier than it was!
Happiness can be a shallow emotion. To many it is linked with the trappings of enjoying the “good life.” This is not biblical happiness as J.B Phillips' translation of the Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel makes clear.
When Jesus saw the vast crowds he went up the hill-side and after he had sat down his disciples came to him. Then he began his teaching by saying to them, "How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! "How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort! "Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them! "Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied! "Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them! "Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God! "Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons of God! "Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs! "And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad - for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way. "You are the earth's salt. But if the salt should become tasteless, what can make it salt again? It is completely useless and can only be thrown out of doors and stamped under foot." "You are the world's light - it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house. "Let your light shine like that in the sight of men. Let them see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven." (Matthew 5:1-16 JBP) These verses deserve much attention and study. Jesus was launching His ministry with a sermon outlining the Kingdom agenda. He was saying it is not first of all what you do that counts but who you are as Kingdom people. The result of being such a people would be the doing of good works that would light up the city and bring glory to the Father. In some small way that is what we experienced in our city as pastors learned to love one another, as we prayed weekly together and went on prayer retreats over a period of about fifteen years. Little by little the yeast of the kingdom worked its way into our lives until love for each other and the Body of Christ in the city took precedence, even over our own ministries. The tendency towards self promotion was dealt with as we became excited about promoting the greater cause of the Kingdom. This Kingdom reality that Jesus spoke of was counter cultural then, and remains so today. This encounter with Jesus and the ways of His Kingdom was the source of the deep seated happiness found in the early church birthed by the Spirit at Pentecost. Jesus said they would be “happy” even in the face of persecution and hardship. That is impacting. I am always inspired by the testimony and lives of christians from nations where persecution is rife. Their joy is contagious. I don’t for a minute minimise their suffering which I know little to nothing of. All the more reason to wonder at the joy they so often exhibit.
Pastors of the city can lead the way and model this Kingdom life. Really this is the result of taking up the cross daily by denying self (selfishness) and following Jesus together. (Lk. 9:23) This is what Karina Kreminski in her book ‘Urban Spirituality’ says is “our call to cruciformity, which is a call to allow our lives to be shaped by the cross….”
When Christian leaders in a city model a cross shaped unity reflecting the humility and servanthood of Jesus great things begin to happen. This was our experience as “good works” emerged little by little to begin to light up our city with the gospel. Toowoomba became a happier city, at least in part, than it was.
How would you rate your city? Is a “happy” church lighting up the city?
This is Paul’s statement to the church in Rome.
“God's kingdom isn't a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness' sake. It's what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you'll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.” (Rom. 14:17-18. Msg)
In other words, to impact those around us the kingdom of God within needs to reflect the reality of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 14:17 NASB)
Tim Keller in a sermon based on Proverbs 11:10 explains why a city rejoices when the righteous go well. Keller says the righteous are those who are prepared to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community while the wicked are those who disadvantage the community to advantage themselves. (Podcast 667 from Keller.)
Peace reflects the Old Testament idea of shalom of harmony and flourishing with God and community.
No wonder these Kingdom attributes produce joy!
Imagine the church of the city living in the light of the Beatitudes as a happy people seeking to bring advantage and blessing to their wider community. This is the heart of the gospel. This is the reign of Jesus through His people in any given locality.
This was the early church.
“All the believers were one in mind and heart. Selfishness was not a part of their community, for they shared everything they had with one another.” (Acts 4:32. TPT)
No wonder there was much rejoicing in Samaria after Philip took the good news of Christ to that city. (Acts 8:5,8) Imagine your city filled with rejoicing!
The message of Jesus and His Kingdom reign of blessing creating a happy people in the midst of a deeply oppressed and unhappy world was revolutionary.
But then again this was no surprise to those few who knew their scriptures. There was an expectation that there would come a promised Messiah/King to bring redemption and restoration, not only to Israel but to the whole world.
There were many promises, and the early church were excited that the day had come and they were in the midst of their fulfilment. We are still in that day. Let’s not settle for anything less than all that the scriptures promise.
Let me repeat this amazing promise contained in God’s prophecy of creating a new heaven and new earth which of course is fulfilled in Christ. Read it over and over and wonder at all God has in store for a church that rises to their kingdom calling.
“Look! I will recreate Jerusalem as a place of happiness, and her people shall be a joy! And I will rejoice in Jerusalem and in my people; and the voice of weeping and crying shall not be heard there anymore.” (Is. 65:18-19. TLB)
Even from prison the apostle Paul could pen his “epistle of joy” to the dynamic church in the city of Philippi.
Who does God use to light up a city? A Beatitude people!
Happy are the humble.
By Ian Shelton Coordinator of Movement Australia