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Time to Shine (Part 1)

July 7, 2010

Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to share a series of posts that break down a sermon I preached this past weekend at Lighthouse Baptist Temple in Baldwin City, KS.  As a missionary, it is always my inclination, and typically expected of me, to share my passion for global evangelism when I am visiting a church.  Of course, on July 4th, Independence Day, many Christians also attend church with the expectation to hear a message that is at least tangentially connected with the topic of patriotism.  It was my intention to find a way to synthesize these two disparate directions into one sermon, and the following is what the Lord led me to preach to the people there.  I pray it is also an encouraging reminder to my readers here as well.

One of the most prominent traditions of the 4th of July – and one of my favorites – is the colorful entertainment of firework displays.  Almost everyone on Independence Day goes out to watch the local firework show; many even gather with family members and hold their own show from the comfort of their driveway.  Those brilliant bursts of light shine forth as a testimony of the steep price paid by many brave men and women to enable us to live in freedom.  But did you know that the concept of shining light has even deeper roots in our nation’s history than just the celebration of Independence Day?

The year was 1630.  A single boat sailed west on the Atlantic with determination, tossed by the crashing waves.  Aboard, a group a men and women huddled together, listening with rapt attention to the man who had led them on this journey.  As these Puritan settlers prepared to land in America and start a colony in what would later become known as Massachusetts, their leader, Jonathan Winthrop preached a sermon to his congregation.  In it, he challenged them with these words that have become immortalized, drawing upon the teaching of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.  Winthrop told them:

For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken … we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world.  We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God … We shall shame the faces of many of God’s worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going.

He told the Puritan colonists that they had a responsibility to honor God as they embarked into the New World.  For Winthrop, it was clear that God had singled them out in order to lead the rest of the world as a model community, a literal city on a hilltop, from this new continent.  He stressed this concept throughout his time as their leader, instilling it in his followers, and they passed it on down over the years during the development of the American colonies, and was ever present during the founding of our country.  In fact, this attitude has permeated our country’s mindset ever since, woven into our historical DNA.  Numerous presidents like John F. Kennedy & Ronald Reagan have quoted the words of Winthrop to illustrate the identity of the United States as global leader.  We have come to accept that the eyes of all other nations are resting on us and watching our every move.  Yet there is a deeper meaning that strikes a chord for us on a personal basis.  Before we continue, it would be good to start with the verses in Matthew 5 that inspired Winthrop to make his original declaration.

[Matthew 5:14-16]

14You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (ESV)

This statement was made early on in the ministry of Christ, directed at his disciples who had stepped out on faith to follow after Him.  In light of this passage, the idea that has developed that the United States should be the “city upon a hill” to this world seems a bit erroneous; Jesus says that you and I are the true city on the hill.  The body of believers should be shining as a beacon for all to see through our faith.

This is what needs to be addressed today:  how can we get back to that missionary mindset that is focused on in Matthew 5:14-16?  How can we shine the light of Christ to the masses all around us and be that brilliant city upon a hill?  This is the main point I want us to learn:

As sold-out believers, we can radiate the light of the Gospel by recognizing the fundamental properties of light that should govern our lives.

That concludes the introduction to my July 4th sermon.  I will develop this point further over the course of the next few days, so be sure to check back in.  In the meantime, keep an eye out for a variety of other posts from me here as well.  Thanks for reading.

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