Who Built This City?

I’m still thinking about the question of ownership? Do we really “own” anything? That question makes my mind wander over to Moses when he spoke to the children of Abraham just before they entered the Promised-land. After forty years of wandering in the desert, Moses gave this speech to the people of Israel where he described what it would mean to live as God’s people in the Promised-land. The entire book of Deuteronomy is this speech given to a people preparing to enter a new home where they would construct a new nation with God has their leader. In Deuteronomy 6: 10-12 Moses told the people:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Notice that Moses established a few very important truths for God’s people. First, it was important for them to remember they didn’t bring themselves into the land “flowing with milk and honey” – God brought them into the land. Second, they needed to remember they didn’t build any of the houses, dig any of the wells, plant any of the vineyards, cultivate any of the olive groves, or construct any of the towns they would come to “own” when they entered the land. Finally, the only reason they enjoyed any of it was because God made it all available to them. God was the only reason they would be greatly satisfied in a land they had not greatly sacrificed to build.

A few chapters later (Deuteronomy 8: 1- 18), Moses prophetically declared what the people of Israel probably would end up believing once they took “possession” of the Promised-land. He predicted: You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Moses didn’t pull any punches. He let the people know that human nature, being what it is, tends to conclude that the things we’re allowed to enjoy for a time, are things that we made happen for ourselves, and therefore are things that we “own.” God didn’t want His people to get reality and unreality mixed up. In reality, they didn’t own anything. God was the one who owned all of it and was graciously sharing it with His people. His people were His stewards, not owners. Stewards enjoy the benefits of and responsibility for their Master’s belongings, but they own nothing. Stewards serve as caretakers of their Master’s property, while owning none of it. Stewards live in the privileges of their Master’s house, wealth, and property, but do not own what they are privileged to enjoy. Stewardship is what God has given to us. We own nothing. We are stewards of what He’s graciously willing to share with us for however long He sees fit to share it. How do you live your life saying, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me?” Did you, on your own, build the life you have?

About Andy Lewis

Andy is an author, pastor, and musician who lives in Santa Cruz California. Currently he serves as lead pastor at Faith Community Church in Santa Cruz
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4 Responses to Who Built This City?

  1. Roy Amaducci says:

    Good stuff Andy.

  2. The interesting juxtaposition is with the “City”, which Ellul sees as “humanity’s replacement for God” going all the way back to Babel. The dual narratives run through the Bible, and history, not overtly, but they are still pretty much always there. I don’t wanna make too much of it, just note it that it is always there and that we always seem to wrestle with this inclination to be city-builders. Is it possible that our avoidance of our stated callings as “aliens and strangers” and mere “ambassadors” in this world (one thinks of Hebrews 11-12) and instead attempting to throw headlong into power politics and legislation (either right or left) is just the attempt to be “City-builders”?

    Interested in your thoughts Andy.

    • Andy Lewis says:

      I absolutely agree. When we take on control of things we do not control, and were never meant to control, we are “replacing God.” We’re trying to build a city, a family, a marriage, a community assuming we have what it takes to shape it into its finest form. We do not have what it takes to shape anyone, any relationship, or any city into its finest form.

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