The good news of the Gospel is that though we are sinners who have broken relationship with God, through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ we now have access to the presence of God. Worship is our response to that reality. God has initiated a loving relationship with us – He “woos” us to himself (1 John 4.19). We neither need to try and prove we are worthy nor try to find God. Instead, we learn to respond to the grace of God, to breathe in the love and mercy of God, and to begin to take on the likeness of Christ through worship.
Worship has both individual and corporate implications. Every human being has been created to be a worshipper – we will all find some object of desire to place our affections in. For some its money, for others its relationships, and for others it might be a career. Our vision is to see every person connect deeply to the heart of God through worship, and to learn to worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4). We long to see every person know God deeply, which in turn brings everything else into its proper place.
Worship is the pre-eminent value both for growing Christ followers and attracting those who do not yet believe. In the model of the early church, we see the believers consistently worshiping God both in public meeting spaces and in their homes. Those outside of the church watched them worship both in word and in deed, and were actually drawn to God through this process. The Lord “added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2.47). Though worship can be a semi-foreign act for those who are not yet believers, it can become a powerful force for those who are seeking, question, or even are skeptical. Those who are not Christians can see how worship brings joy to our lives, transforms us, comforts us, challenges us, and connects us to the Spirit of God.
Learning to worship becomes the pathway to a new identity in Christ. In the Apostle Paul’s most famous teaching on reconciliation, he first points out the importance of a changed nature through worship: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5.17).
The “old” nature is preoccupied with our own self-interest and agenda. But the “new” nature that comes from an ongoing encounter with God produces a new identity. When we experience the love of God in a personal way, we become “compelled” to move out into the world with a sense of mission (1 Corinthians 5.14). This orientation of mission can be described in a number of different ways, but the word that the Apostle Paul most commonly used was reconciliation:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (1 Corinthians 5.18-20)
To think of yourself as an ambassador of God is a profound idea. In modern terms, a political ambassador is the highest-ranking diplomat representing a nation. God uses that same word to portray the level of responsibility that has been entrusted to those who are new creations through Christ Jesus. God is making his appeal to the world through us, and we have been sent as ambassadors of reconciliation to every domain of society – relationships, churches, organizations, businesses, economics, race, class, gender, culture – all are now being reconciled to God through Jesus.
We are to become worshippers, to become reconcilers, and then to manifest those attributes in a particular place. The theology of place is an important idea in the Bible. The Kingdom of God is not just an abstract idea – it is meant to be a concrete reality that is firmly rooted in a specific geographic place. This gives guidance to believers for how to organize themselves to join God’s redemptive plan. There are numerous examples of this throughout the Bible, but one of the clearest expressions of this is found in Jeremiah 29.4-8:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace [the Hebrew word shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
This was an incredibly significant command for a number of reasons. The Israelites had just been taken into captivity by Babylon, so the human instinct would have been to seek revenge. On top of that, a number of false prophets had emerged and told the Israelites that God was going to destroy the city and that they should stay as far away from the city dwellers as possible.
Instead, God gives the Israelites the opposite message. God tells them that it is no accident that they are in this city at this time – they have actually been “carried” there by God. So they are commanded to invest in that city in very specific ways – to put down their roots and build homes; to plant gardens and become part of the local economy; to build and raise their families there; to seek the peace and prosperity; and finally, to pray for the city.
One of the most important and intriguing words in this passage is the Biblical idea of shalom (translated in English as ‘peace’). Shalom is a multi-layered, justice-oriented word. It was the Hebrew way to describe what the world would look if it accurately reflected the design of God. It is a picture of holistic and comprehensive peace. It represents the world at One – with God, with each other, and with creation. It represents harmony –economic peace, social peace, racial peace, environmentally, gender, and family peace. It is a flourishing in every dimension of society. God tells the Israelites that they are to seek the shalom of the city that God has carried them into.
Our third pillar of Neighborhood Development is intended to reflect the spirit of Jeremiah 29. Humboldt Park is the neighborhood we believe God has “carried” us into. We believe we are to join what God has already been doing in our neighborhood and to learn from and invest into that neighborhood. Humboldt Park becomes the place where our vision and ministry is rooted, and from there we seek the shalom of our neighborhood, our city, and our world.