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December 28, 2012

my city

As we wrap up 2012, quality of life statistics for cities worldwide are being reported. My city in Canada scored well in one such survey; and cities like Zurich or Geneva often top the lists. When I saw Switzerland this year, I understood why it is a desirable destination.

These surveys look at a variety of factors, such as: number of ducks quacking in local lakes at any given time, Starbucks availability and the Justin Bieber fan index. (I was just checking if you were paying attention.) Actually, they look at factors that most people consider important for daily life: ease of transportation, air quality, education and entertainment options and, of course, cost of living compared to average wage.

When I look at such lists, I don't look for my home city here in Asia. I know it won't make the cut. It doesn't have what it takes to be a top move-here city, with its smoggy skies, dusty streets, noise pollution, and the occasional riot thrown in for good measure. In fact, at Christmastime when I googled local weather, it came up as "smoke." I am glad to be here, but I didn't move here pursuing quality of life, by its common definition.

The first coming of Jesus and ideas of so-called "quality of life" were reverberating in me this Christmas. When I thought about God's choice in terms of a quality of life survey, it gave me pause. We cannot comprehend the quality of life that the Son had in His glorious home in Heaven. He knew perfection in every way: relationally, environmentally, circumstantially. We're so accustomed to the story of Him coming to us that we don't realize the enormity of His change in lifestyle.

But something mattered to him much more than personal comfort or earthly definitions of "quality of life." So He did something crazy. I went looking for the words again; Paul wrote about His move down in Philippians 2.

He came down:
"being in the form of God...
made Himself of no reputation,
taking the form of a bondservant, and 

coming in the likeness of men."

And down again:
"He humbled Himself and
became obedient to the point of death..."

And down once more:
"even death of the cross."

Before He came to earth, God didn't do a quality of life survey about Bethlehem. In fact, of all people, He knew best what He was getting Himself into. He submitted Himself to pests, to dust, to sweat; to living in a sin-cursed world. More importantly, He submitted Himself to living under the Father's decree. He submitted to the point of death, even death of the cross.

Hebrews 12 says: "For the joy set before him he endured the cross." Jesus' pursuit was of a greater joy than anything that could be quantified on a city score.

Too often the joy we set before ourselves is not the same joy Christ set before Himself. We're not motivated by what motivated Him: things that last forever. Quality of life surveys show us what the world values, but we must assess our value systems for consistency with our Example's values. 

Paul said: "What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

Whether believers reside in a move-there city or a leave-there city, our focus is to be on the eternal city. Abraham gave up earthly quality of life, because he was "looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). 

Someday soon, like Abraham, our pockets will be emptied. Our bodies will be stripped. Our homes will be leveled. True faith shall become sight. What a city we'll enter! What quality of life we'll know! We'll see firsthand what He left to redeem us. And we will worship...forever.

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