City on a Hill

Once upon a time there was this guy named Jesus, you might have heard of him or even read his book.

One time at a major public address, he said that the people that followed him would be like a city on a hill: unmistakable, un-missable, un-hideable. A prominent feature on the skyline of society.

Which sounded kind of strange…until he described what his followers would be about. They would feed the hungry, they would clothe the poor, they would visit prisoners.

Not as a way to score points or impress people, but as a way to worship God.

Instead of courting favor from the powerful, they would serve and protect the powerless. They would not strive for wealth or status, but instead their success would be defined by the degree with which they were able to serve others.

And the metaphor fit, for a group of people that genuinely loved others without condition or reciprocation would be hard to miss.

But they have been missed. Sorely missed.

Although today more people today claim the title of christian than ever before, as a group they…okay, we… have never been more unrecognized, undistinguished, insular, and well…flat.

So much so, that at least in America, many now resort to advertising how different they are on billboards, t-shirts, bumper stickers, or any available surface, often ironically declaring their uniqueness in the most unoriginal styles possible.

So Close And Yet Completely Wrong

Which leads me to wonder…perhaps what the world really needs is not more hype, but rather more height.

Is it possible?

Hit me with your best thought.

This entry was posted in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to City on a Hill

  1. Leeuna says:

    I totally agree with you. I often think of today’s christians as those faux fruit trees you see blossoming everywhere in the summer. The Bradford pear trees, weeping cherry trees – those trees that blossom and look pretty to others, but they bear no fruit…

    If we have to advertise the fact that we are christians, then we’re obviously not living it. :)

    • Brent says:

      Excellent analogy.

      All flash and show with none of the mess that comes from fruit dropping in your yard. Of course the trees are sterile and have no future, but at least they look nice behind a white picket fence.

      Love, however, is always messy. It often doesn’t fit very well with manicured landscapes and slick programs. But it is the active ingredient and without it, all we are left with is hype.

  2. Chris non-C says:

    “Preach the gospel at all times — If necessary, use words.” St. Francis Assisi
    Like any organization, its leadership will make or break it. In the Biblical model the father is the leader in the household and we as men have been AWOL far too long. Its starts there in the home, and it is from there that nations are built to Glory of God.

    • Brent says:

      I have always loved that quote. I am, however, more interested in reclaiming neighborhoods and reconciling races and restoring relationships than building nations right now.

      I also think the defecting dad syndrome probably deserves its own conversation.

      Defecating dads, of course, are a different story. As far as I’m concerned, they fit into any thread.

      Thanks Chris for your continued contributions here.

  3. Nicely done, Brent. Too many brands of Christians out there besides the one type there should be.

    • Brent says:

      Too true.

      I am all for the re-exploration, rediscovery, and even a judicious bit of re-packaging of the faith, but somehow we have to find our way back to the original formula: the flavor of unexpected generosity and grace instilled by Jesus that often get’s overlooked in our attempts to overhaul and rebrand our “product.”

  4. Lance says:

    I am thankful for those who are willing to stand out as “Christians” as only a blossom. They take all the heat and keep the Dark-side in the dark while the worker bees get actual things done in the trenches where it is needed most. When you stand out in what has been the society we live in, you are compelled to accept the pattern that is appointed for you or you are attacked to your very core and from in your own family to comply. I am so glad that the end of judgment day is coming and the Dark-side’s system is crumbling from all the hidden work of the little worker bee. Soon the worker bee will be so numerous that many mountains will stand out to the world in our gift of true love, Gods Light!!!

    • Brent says:

      I appreciate your enthusiasm, even if I’m not sure that I fully understand what you mean.

      So let me encourage you that the best way for Christ-followers to stand out is the way Christ did: devotion to God expressed through sacrificial love. In that regard we need to all be worker bees.

  5. rjlight says:

    I can’t believe that is actually on a t-shirt. Then, again, I can believe it and it makes me sad…So what does that mean to be a city on the hill? I think so often that followers think that means they elevate themselves–best biggest church, best youthgroup, best music, blah, blah, blah. Not that striving for excellence is wrong it’s just this corporation or institution that we now call Christianity has gotten out of hand.
    I think so often we want to be different by what we don’t do, rather than what we do for others. This, my friend, has been a struggle for me for years–not knowing what that Jesus-follower should look like (I tend to avoid the word “Christian” because it has just been so misused.) I guess I think that city on the hill goes along with the beatitudes and we are to be lowly to be lift up. I don’t know…Each year seems to start with more questions about this journey than answers…

    • Brent says:

      Having more questions than answers, to me at least, is the best place to start…and continue…and one day finish this life. Becuase in all honesty the questions may change, but I don’t think they will ever go away.

      I guess that’s why I try to avoid people who have “all the answers”, I can’t figure out if they are being dishonest or merely deluded. Which of course is why that shirt bugs me so much.

      Jesus was pretty clear about the effect of following Him: life would get better, but not any easier. In fact he listed a long string of side effects to following Him that would make any cigarette warning label look tame.

      As for what the phrase City on a Hill really means, I think we need to look at longer quote. One that like many challenging things in life, is easy to grasp but difficult to master.

      “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

      Good works are hard, doing them from a good attitude is harder. Sacrificial love is no picnic either. Programs and attendance figures and…well, t-shirts are a lot easier to pull off. Which I guess explains their popularity. But I think its all just compensating for what is missing: height.

  6. Mike'itect says:

    It’s been said before but bears repeating, the church in general seems more occupied with programs than His presence. No amount of busyness can substitute for personal transformation.

    It’s doubtful to me that significant social improvements can be made and sustained by efforts at good outward behavior alone, for eventually that fails. We will continue to do all that we do as unto the Lord, but actual reconciliation and restoration occurs following individual heart transformation and under the government of the Lord.

  7. Aquixotic says:

    If you look at Jesus’ ministry, it was all about personal relationships. He ENGAGED people and helped people personally transform, as Mike’itet pointed out. I feel like most (not all!) American Christians isolate themselves from the “undesirables” of society. I’m not saying the ‘burbs don’t need Jesus, too, but Memphis is a city that is crying out for the kind of REAL, transforming love that we, as Christians, should be demonstrating as a form of worship. Thanks for your post, Brent.

    • Brent says:

      And that’s just it. Between you and Mike’itet you nailed it. Loving people with unconditional transforming love, especially the intimidating people, is not a hobby or even a duty, it is worship.

      And this town is overdue for a worship service.

  8. The term that popped into my head when I read this post was what Mother Theresa used to call Jesus’ ‘distressing disguise’. She’d refer to loving Him in his ‘distressing disguises’– as the poor, the marginalized, the unloved, the forgotten and unwanted. It is much harder to kneel in the dirt and embrace someone who you may never ‘fix’. But that is how love should be– lavish, unconditional, and unconcerned with distressing appearances. If it wasn’t, would any of us be having this conversation, trying to live this life?

    • Brent says:

      No, none of us would.

      In trying to sort through “the meaning of Christmas” recently and attempting to live out that meaning (part of that discussion you can find here) I got to ponder with some friends about how on Jesus’ birthday we give gifts to everyone but the birthday-boy.

      And how Jesus’ gift-giving guide was well published and easy to find: How he made it clear that what we do for the poor and excluded and overlooked, we have actually done for him.

      The irony is that the best advertising is action. When you start loving on people the way Jesus did, you don’t need more ads, you need more space to hold all the people that respond.

  9. stacey margarita says:

    Hey Brent, we are Facebook friends and Twitter followers, we both blog and worship Jesus and love talking about love. And I just saw on my news feed you were going to hear Shane Claiborne. I thought that was so cool that I decided to come to your blog and find out more about you. I have to say after reading this, I’m sorry we have never met face to face. Good to know you, brother. I am excited to know of a local Christ follower with so much positive stuff to say. Call on me if I can be of service.

    • Brent says:

      Thank you for visiting.

      It is strange to “know” someone online without ever having met them, but I’m sure we’ll run into each other eventually. Until then keep up the good work.

      (Actually you can continue the good work even after you meet me, I’m sure it won’t be a world ending event.)

  10. ~ says:

    It seems to me the pop-culture packaging of Jesus to the younger more impressionable crowd is not necessarily a bad thing, but I can’t help but think it would cheapen the whole experience of becoming a Christian. Maybe it’s done as a way to make faith in God not so scary or intimidating? But what happens when you realize faith can be intimidating? Do you feel cheated? I think maybe an honest loving discussion of how letting God in to your heart can be messy at times is warranted. Like Greg Boyd said we dare not put Jesus in a nice tidy little box. We must give him permission to mess us up and call in to question sometimes the most fundamental assumptions we might have about everything from our culture to our country.

    It’s not enough to just attend a Church service…we must hit the pavement and engage people.

    I’ve had enormous misconceptions of what it means to be a Christian, but I’m learning.

    • rjlight says:

      I personally think the pop-culture package turns off more younger people than turns them on. I know my 12-year-old can’t stand it when a church turns the Bible into marshmallow creme. He says, why can’t we just open the Bible and read it and learn from it, and talk about it and do it… he knows it is hard. We talk about how hard it is in 7th grade when everyone is putting the others down to feel good about themselves. That is his reality that he has to apply the Bible to and a T-shirt with a simple button just doesn’t cut it…

    • Brent says:

      I believe you’re right Debbie.

      I think that one of the disconnects between the church and younger generations is that well-meaning people have confused the ideas of making the message of Jesus accessible with making it easy.

      The Jesus you read about in the Bible said that following him would change your entire life…and quite possibly bring it to a premature end.

      In contrast, many church-people sound like a ginsu infomercial, “…but wait there’s more, accept Jesus today and we’ll throw in this electric prayer beacon absolutely free!!”

      Ironically, the problem with whitewashing the gospel seems to be not that we make the gospel “too good to be true” but rather “too bland to base a life on.”

  11. ScottL says:

    Simple yet impactful way to challenge us. As you said somewhere in the article, “at least in America”. I suppose learning about and going to places outside of America, seeing the work of God in those places, might stir something in us. I suppose some of this stuff might lead to what InternetMonk referred to as the coming evangelical collapse. Interesting to ponder.

    • Brent says:

      I think the rest of the world, especially the developing world, has a lot to teach us. Not only about what is really important, but even about what is real at all.

      I’ve tried to read those articles by InternetMonk and even though he seems to be covering some of the same material as we are discussing here, I just I can’t muster any enthusiasm for predictions about the future of movements and “isms.”

      Maybe these movements are just bookmarks in a journey of faith rather than identities to be defended, or even mourned.

      Just sayin’

  12. Sleek says:

    deep insight….But these days, heights only come from bottled fermented fruit…