Discovering what a real United City looks like through the people of Lakeland
What comes to mind when you hear “United City”? Is it a city where there are like-minded people, where everyone agrees on everything and everyone walks, talks, and acts the same? Perhaps what comes to mind when you hear “United City” are well manicured lawns and quaint houses, where people mow each other’s lawns and crime is nonexistent.
Or how about this: a “United City” is a city where people lay down their agendas and attitudes aside to actively show concern for others? A place where poverty, homelessness, and social injustice have no refuge. A city where no one feels neglected, from the very young to the very old. A place where everyone may not necessarily agree, but where perspectives are valued, respected, and discussed. It’s a place where selfishness is warred against on a daily basis, and generosity explodes through the streets.
Wow. “United City” sounds kind of like paradise, right? Is that vision for Lakeland too storybook-esque to become the reality, the ingrained, everyday norm?
We don’t think so. At least not here in Lakeland. Here’s why.
When we look at the Bible, the most influential book in history, we see that we were designed to live in such a community. Even for someone that does not believe the Bible, it is so easy to see how this vision of a “United City” could actually work and be something beneficial to make our communities thrive. “United City” sounds so much better than what we currently have because God created us for such a community (Ephesians 4:2-6, 12-16; Colossians 3:12-16; Romans 14:19; Romans 12:4-10,15,16,18; 1 Corinthians 13:11,12,14)
Here comes the real heart of the issue. If we all desire to live in a community like that…why isn’t Lakeland a “United City” already? Why does social injustice still have a place to exist, and poverty and homelessness hold families under their grip? Why are there lonely people in our schools, or work places, and our homes?
To take United City from a vision to a reality, it has to be more than singing koombahyah and holding hands, we must make a choice to “be more united.” The first choice must be to have Jesus at the center of all we do, because He is the only one who can sustain unity (1 Corinthians 10:31-33).
No this is not a church, ministry or another spiritual organization to be a part of. It’s not about a certain pastor or leader, or even a call to action. It’s simply about the one person who unites us all, and that is Jesus Christ. His work on the cross is not only what brings us together, but also keeps us together. As we lay down our own plans, our own perceptions, and our own priorities, and willingly surrender our hearts, convenience, and comfort, we will find that our outlook for our city will shift (Acts 17:26, Galatians 6:2,9,10).
We know such a movement will take more than a day, a month, or possibly even years. We are however, committed to being an on-going movement pursuing God’s heart regularly for this city. Being a United City citizen is an adventurous lifestyle, meaning the nature of this call is alive and active.
It’s a call to share relationships, it’s a call to share resources, it’s a call to pray for another pastor, leader, or ministry; for the growth of another church, even when it doesn’t directly benefit me or my church. Its a call to put others needs before my own, and a call to share successful practices, ideas, strategies, insights, advice and so on, solely for the purpose of building others up. (Matthew 28:8-12; Philipians 2:1-5; 1 Timothy 1:5)
Imagine a worship team that has access to a repertoire of music, arrangements, and vocalists from all over the city. A network of different genres and high level talent with no personal agenda, but with simply a desire to express a united sound for Jesus so boldly from this city. That is what the UC Worship team is about.
Imagine space to talk through hard topics like race and the church, especially living in the divided country and world we live in. To be able to engage different types of people in one room for hours, all with the desire for truth and for God’s heart to become our own. That is Better Together, the work of Ray and Gwen Allen partnered with United City.
Imagine a day where people take notice to Jesus, where our country recognizes the importance of prayer and faith. A place where people can freely gather, and pray and cry out to God for the needs of our city. A day where no one person is glorified, or in the spotlight, but where a city communally looks to Christ, the sole hope of our city. This is the National Day Of Prayer in Lakeland!
There are so many people across our city of Lakeland who are scratching the surface of what it means to be a United City Citizen. Stay tuned for the next blog post, highlighting Ray Allen from Southeastern University and his work with the Diversity and Inclusion Initiative.
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:31-32