It was an illuminating conversation. At the NoCo USA Pro Challenge Festival in Summitview’s north parking lot, I spoke with Bob Williams, founder of Beer and Bike Tours
(yeah, that’s a thing). Bob had been manning a tent at the event with a new intern who had arrived here only days before. The intern was wide-eyed the entire evening, marveling at the spirit of the people, the weather, the music, the food and the “bikey-ness” of it all. He asked Bob, “Is this what Fort Collins is like every day?”
Bob simply replied, “Yeah.”
Welcome to Fort Collins, bike intern.
Often, as Shelli and I set off on our bikes for a date, I find myself grateful to live in this city. And I’m not alone. People love our city and happily spend a little extra
to call it home.
But for those of us who trust, worship and follow Jesus as Savior, God and King, this is not our home. Hold Fort Collins loosely, my friends.
We Are Exiles
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles . . . (1 Peter 2:11)
How are Christians to interact with our city? How should we live with our neighbors? The Apostle Peter gives us clear answers resting on two truths: 1) God plans for every Christian to bless the world, and 2) every Christian is an exile (1 Peter 2:9-12). For Christians, our aim should be to bring good to our city but with a certain detachment, recognizing that this is not our home. We should be generous
If only it was that simple.
We Will Be Rejected
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house . . . (1 Peter 2:4–5)
Jesus was a living stone. He was a foundation rock that established a beautiful, true and perfect representation of God. He was also a rock that some stumbled over. They despised his submission to God and his call for all to do the same.
“As [we] come to him” and align our lives to his call, we will, like him, become stumbled-over stones.
This came into focus for me two Saturdays ago as I stood across the street from Planned Parenthood. I had joined hundreds of people in a peaceful defense of the lives of unborn babies. The recent videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s horrific trafficking
of baby parts had created a cultural moment in which those who see God’s image in those babies came together to say, “Enough.”
The crowd, filled with people of all ages, was peaceful — earnest but friendly. Police officers roamed the ranks, remarking that they were happy to be there.
That peace was shattered by insults punctuated with four-letter exclamations from passing cars. The feeling of rejection was tangible. It was uncomfortable simply to stand and hold a sign. But holding an abortion protest sign is a long way from confronting people with the cross and resurrection of Christ. How much more rejection might we encounter in communicating how Jesus (fully God, fully man) came to die as our substitute because every person is desperately evil, and our only hope is that he might receive our punishment?
"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…" (2 Timothy 3:12).
Rejection is a part of the exiled life.
God Doesn’t Call Us to Seek Rejection
The certainty of our rejection is not an excuse to be belligerent. I’m reminded of the time when I moved into a neighborhood where the consensus political view was different than mine. I responded by planting a political sign in my front yard that flaunted my differences. My motive was not to bring hope or life, it was to offend — to place a protective barrier between myself and those who might disagree with me. This is not the way God calls Christians to bear their distinctiveness.
"Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders…" (1 Timothy 3:7).
I stand corrected by this verse. Here, Paul instructs Timothy to appoint pastors in churches who are mature in Christ, and a mark of that maturity is the pastor’s reputation among those outside the church. If all our hope rests in God’s grace toward us, we should be known, first, for being grateful, generous, forgiving and loving.
"Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing" (1 Peter 3:9).
God Does Not Call Us to Retreat
“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; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear 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." (Jeremiah 29:4–7)
Jeremiah speaks this prophecy to Jewish exiles in Babylon experiencing the rejection that accompanies exile. They were tempted withdraw to the edge of Babylon and to cloister themselves completely from its culture.
But God called them to enter Babylon and, as exiles, to bring value to the city. “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you.” Why? Because this is what God does, generously and without discrimination. Jesus entered the world that would eventually reject him. To bring its people hope, salvation and healing, he gave his live. This generous exilic mission is so central to God’s heart that Jesus asserts no one can claim to be a son of God without owning it themselves:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43–45)
On Being Generous Exiles
So how does this look? Here are a few guiding principles.
Remember the greatest gift.
It is most loving to give what is most valuable and there is nothing more valuable to our city than Jesus. All that we do should be founded in a desire for people to see, experience and know God. Our greatest gift to our city is the news that he has provided a way for this to happen.
Seek the good of your “near ones.”
Thankfully, God has not made things complicated. Look around you. Who’s there? What can you do to seek their good? How might you add value to their lives today
Good things are happening in your city — jump in and help.
Certainly, we cannot affirm everything happening in our city. Some things bring harm to people and damage the glory of God. But we must not only reject the damaging things in our city; we must affirm the good things. God is sending rain on all of Fort Collins! He is initiating good things outside the figurative walls of the church.
This was the heart behind our partnership with the City of Fort Collins in hosting the NoCo USA Pro Challenge Festival. A bike culture has some legitimate benefits (health, frugality, enjoyment of creation) that Christians can celebrate. Working to make this event successful and to advance the mission of the Bikes department communicates a generous willingness to affirm their good aim. It says, “We join you in this concern for the welfare of our city.”
Partnerships like these steal away the accusation that the church brings only condemnation.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:15–17)
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:13–16)
These passages are tremendous guides for our time in exile and they have become a north star for me. Our reputation in doing good should confound folks who might reject us for representing Jesus and the gospel. Here’s the target: Leave a taste of the goodness of God with everyone — including those who would slander us. Pray that the Holy Spirit would use that to draw people to a curious investigation of our hope. And pray that our motivation would be love — love for Jesus and love for the people of our great city.
What could be a better aim while we wait for the eternal city to come?