The City on a Hill
January 12, 2021
Pastor Lawrence Metzler
Several times in the span of my ministry at GPC I have publicly stated that our positions on social, environmental, and even moral issues are not framed by what we are against, but by what we are for. In other words, our starting point is not that we are anti-liberal, anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-gay, anti-(whatever), but our starting point is that we are pro-gospel! Being gospel people unequivocally determines our worldview, and because we begin with the gospel it impacts not only what we believe, but how we live in and respond to the world around us.
I watched the news on Wednesday night, January 6, as authorities lit the US Capitol brightly, both to help police remove protestors and to illuminate the beautiful capitol building as a beacon to the world. I heard a news anchor call for America to once again be the “city on the hill” that shines the light to the rest of the world. Admittedly, these visual and verbal expressions of “light” incite a spirit of patriotism to rise within me, prompting the dutiful protest of anything that seeks to threaten our great country. I really do love America and honor the women and men who have served, and are serving, to preserve and protect our nation.
As the prophetic clock is ticking, and it is, there is a heightened urgency for the “city on the hill” to let its light shine as bright as it possibly can. Herein, lies my concern. The “city on the hill” that brings the true light into the world is not America, or any other nation. The city on the hill is the church! When Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” He did not say it to a nation, but to His disciples.
There is a prevailing idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must continue to be one. While many supportive arguments could be made based on a faith espoused by our founding fathers, Scriptural quotes made by Presidents, and divine appeals in our court room proceedings, etc., foundational to being a Christian is a transformed life because of trusting Christ as your personal Savior. While there are many true Christians living in America, that does not make America a Christian nation. In other words, our goal as Christians is not to make American a Christian nation again, our goal is to lead as many people as possible to take their next steps to find and follow Christ, knowing that the morality that results from following Christ is vital to our democracy and the common good.
That does not mean that we retreat or remain silent, but it does mean that the loudest and greatest voice of protest against evil is not what we do and say on the Capitol steps or in emotive Facebook rants, but on the gospel conversations that we have with unbelievers in our own family, in our workplace, and in our community. In my devotional reading this morning from Extreme Devotion, there was a statement that said, “Some of God’s most valuable work may take place around the kitchen table or having coffee in a next-door neighbor’s house.” For many Christians, sharing their faith and the good news of the gospel, even with their closest friends, would be a feat of heroic proportions. And yet that is what would change America!
I always want to be a learner and lean in to better understand the world around me, but I have also read the Book that gives the most accurate assessment of our world. Consider what Paul tells Timothy about the state of morality in the last days:
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying it’s power. And from such people turn away (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Paul is explaining the full spectrum of sin that will be in the world in the end times. Immorality is not just about sexuality, it’s the real measure of one’s character. And there is no political system that will ever change that. However, the gospel does. And this is my challenge: What are we giving voice to? Are we giving voice to the secondary issues or to the primary issue of gospel transformation? Secondary issues are driven by the fear of socialism, loss of religious freedoms, loss of basic rights, persecution, etc. Yes, all of this could happen which legitimizes the fear, but would you not agree that all of these are secondary issues to our primary role of living the gospel?
I received a copy of a letter from an Iranian pastor this week, addressed to American Christians, and I want to share what he wrote:
I can tell you firsthand after years and years of seeing the Gospel take root in the Islamic Republic of Iran: the Holy Spirit will sort the secondary things out. They’re important. They matter. And He’ll give you the power to forgive your enemies. He can heal your land.
Incredible things are happening in Iran, to and through Iranians, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And we don’t have the freedom you have in America! But I’ll tell you this: I’ll take the Iranian Islamic regime over democratic freedom any day. I mean that. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is breathing on persecution we are enduring as disciples of Jesus in Iran, and the Gospel is sweeping through our country with more might and power than COVID-19. Iranians are going to crowd out the sea of glass. We’re going to need a lot of seats at the table at the Wedding Feast.We have plenty of injustice in Iran, and God sees it, and He cares. And He’s dealing with it, and He will deal with it. But we aren’t discipling Iranians to solve temporal problems in this temporal age. We’re discipling for eternity.
Fight the good fight. So many of you are willing to die on the proverbial hill for what you believe, and I love that. But die on the right hill. There is a time and a place to invoke your constitutional rights; Paul did it. But Paul did it because he was caught in the act of spreading the Gospel, and he invoked his right as a means of spreading it further. Don’t get distracted by social justice movements and neglect making disciples to the only One who can actually solve our problems. Anddon’t fight so hard for your right to gather that you neglect to actually spread the Gospel.
Lean in and ask the Lord what new wineskins look like for your neighborhood, your city, your state, and your country. What old wineskins do you need to leave in 2020? What changes should you and your community make now to meet 2021 with strength as a disciple who makes disciples?That’s our command. That’s our commission. We are disciples who make disciples, or we’re disobedient.
You have the freedom to preach the Gospel where you are. We don’t. We’d really hate to see you squander your rights for anything less than eternity. Get your eyes on the King and His Kingdom coming—and keep them there. We love you. We’re for you. The church in Iran is praying for you. We’re on the same team. And we’ll see you in eternity.
Consider the reality that the adversary is on the prowl to deceive and distract Christians from what really matters. It is his nature and he’s good at it – always has been and always will. He does not care how boldly we protest, how loudly we shout, or what flag we carry, as long as it does not include the primary issue of gospel transformation. If he can silence us from gospel conversations, he has us exactly where he wants us. As Christians, we cannot retreat and remain silent, but we must consider what voice we give and how we give it. God is always working his plan and in his great grace is removing some of the places where we may have misplaced our hope in order to bring us back to be the “city on the hill” that is the true beacon of light to the world.
A friend shared a quote with me from her devotional yesterday that said: “Just remember that God’s ways are not our ways. What our culture might say is a ‘set back’ God may be using as a ‘set up’ for your greatest days ahead.”
That is the hope that I want us to live in! These are hard days for our nation, but they are great days for the church. May we, the church, reclaim our identity as “the city on the hill” that shines brightly as we boldly live out the gospel! That is what we are for!