And isn’t that true of many people? My initial guess was that most casual fans would consider they might see three things in any western – a saloon, a gunfight, and the hero riding into the sunset. To test my hypothesis, I conducted a little poll (non-scientific) on Facebook these past few days to see what others thought. The poll revealed the following:
- John Wayne (11 references) – other actors were mentioned, but none were as prevalent as the “Duke”
- Knowing Good Guys from Bad Guys (7) – whether cowboys and Indians or otherwise – the lines of good and bad were clearly defined
- Gunsmoke/Bonanza (5) – several shows and movies were mentioned, but Gunsmoke was most common
- Family – grandfathers, uncles, etc. (5) – other comments included related items like televisions, chairs, noise, etc.
- John Wayne/horses (3) – tie
- Characters over actors; events – Doc Holliday , Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral
The poll did not prove my hypothesis, at least regarding sunsets. However, if we think about the proverbial sunset, two ideas should come to mind.
- Most stories show that people began to make plans for the night before the sun has fallen. That is, in the wilderness, many dangers are unknown and unseen, so it is best to have a base camp established before nightfall. But the hero in the western forgoes this logic and heads out (often alone).
- After the sun sets, the sun will rise again. That is, one story may end, but more stories will soon begin. We may be ready to put one part of our life behind us, but in doing so, we must also ask, “What’s next?” And if you are alive today, there is a next. The question is how will you approach whatever is next?
Today, we are going to briefly review three passages of Scripture – from which we can ask of each – “What happened next?” Before we do that, let me remind us of the development theory that has guided this series on various issues churches must address. Again, the theory is a human development theory developed in the 1950s by Erik Erikson, but because the church is addressed as a singular entity in Scripture (e.g. Bride, Body – both of Christ), we can consider how we as a church fit these various stages.
Today, I am discussing the eighth, and final step Erikson’s original. Previously, we:
- have moved through trust by looking at how different groups opposed one another in 1 Corinthians.
- discussed the idea of autonomy and Paul’s life as he shared his ambition in Philippians.
- we observed that we must take the proper initiative to accomplish what God has for us in 2 Corinthians.
- saw our need to be industrious by imitating God from Ephesians.
- saw our need to understand our identity is in Christ because it is He who made us free (Galatians).
- discussed the need for intimacy within the body of Christ as found in Colossians).
- were challenged on whether or not to allow certain matters to keep us from being generative (Romans).
Today, we look back on our lives to see how we have lived. This stage, which reflects senior adults, is called Integrity vs Despair. As people begin to see the sunset of their lives, they begin to reflect on whether they have lived a good life. Of course, the true answer to this depends on whose standards are used, but if we answer that our life has been good and productive then we have lived a life of Integrity – and are ready to die peaceably. If we have many regrets, then we find ourselves in despair wishing we had more chances and are particularly fearful of the end of life.
Throughout this series, I have provided (originally three, now) four overarching reasons people and churches do not make disciples. I have changed the diagram today a bit to show how these reasons would look differently regarding integrity vs despair.
We don’t understand Jesus
- Integrity: we seek to understand, and are eventually glad we did
- Despair: we will do nothing and stand in regret at the end of our lives
We don’t believe God
- Integrity: we pray for a faith that allow us to trust Him more
- Despair: we live life thinking we are ok until we find out we represent the man with one talent
We don’t love Jesus
- Integrity: we obey, even when we don’t want to, and over time realize a deeper love for Jesus
- Despair: argue that “I really love Jesus, and I don’t need to listen to this” – only realizing at the end that Scripture doesn’t lie
We don’t know how
- Integrity: we realize the command is for “me” and figure out how even if no one else will
- Despair: we blame others for not showing us only to later realize God gives us all responsibility
Because we are looking at passages from different books of the New Testament today, I am not going to give an outline at this point as I have been. Instead, here is our GPS to review once again.
- To be A large church in a small town. (Matthew 5.13-16)
- Exalt the Savior (John 12.32).
- Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13).
- Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8).
- Jesus (Matt 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
- Observe (Colossians 1.28-29) – Following the commands of Jesus.
- Unite (1 Cor 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
- Revere (John 12.32) – Worshipping God in all aspects of our lives.
- Nurture (Eph 4.12-13) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
- Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
- You (Matt. 15.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.
- Learn With Each Other (Acts 17.10-12)
- Live For Each Other (Rom 15.1-2)
- Love God and All Others (Matt 22.37-39)
- Lead One Another (to Follow Jesus) (2 Tim 2.2)
- (Leave) When Called by the One True Other (Acts 13.1-3)
Over the last nine weeks now, you have heard a different perspective on each item related to our Strategy, our Mission, and now the Vision. If you missed any of these or almost any other Teaching Moment or Sermon, you can check out the church’s blog. Go to the church’s website and click on the link to the blog. They are (almost) all there.
For now, let us move into our first passage – a passage that relates to a church on the rise.
Disciple-making churches find integrity when involving others in making disciples. (Acts 11.19-30)
By Acts 11, the church has begun to spread to regions well beyond Jerusalem. The first seven chapters take place in Jerusalem. Chapter 8 extends further, and in Chapter 10 Peter is in Caesarea Maritima. In chapter 11, we have an account of the gospel spreading well northward and someone had to go to see if the reports were true. The apostles select Barnabas for the duty.
Barnabas arrived and was able to confirm what had been said. Many others were added to the Lord. (Verse 24). So many were coming to the Lord that Barnabas could not train them all. So, Barnabas went and found Paul who then helped in Antioch to lead others to better know and serve Christ. Barnabas involved Paul which taught Paul how to involve others. Barnabas is only directly linked with a couple of others in Scripture, but Paul is directly linked with over 30. But where did Paul learn? He learned to be a disciple-maker from Barnabas, and a good deal of that was in Antioch.
Were they effective? Verse 26 says it was in Antioch where the disciples of Jesus – known as Followers of the Way – were first called Christians. The people of Antioch knew who the Jews were. They knew who the Gentiles were. But this new group need a way to be identified. And the disciples so resembled the person of Jesus that the town created a new name – Christian – or “little Christ” which was originally meant to be a negative term.
But the people of Antioch had integrity as a church. In chapter 13, it was this church that was called to set aside Barnabas and Paul and commission them for their first missionary journey. It was this church to which Paul returned to give a report of their work (end of Acts 14). But the church was not without conflict, for it was the church at Antioch that was the cause of the Jerusalem Council as covered in Acts 15. Yet, this church, from what we know remained faithful to their calling to make disciples who make disciples.
Fairfax Baptist Church, are we fulfilling our call to make disciples who make disciples? Do we, in general, see making disciples as a task of the preacher or do we take the responsibility to make disciples ourselves? In your mind, do you see it as my job to stand here and preach or to involve others to lead others in becoming better followers of Jesus? I have a long way to go in my goal of making disciples here, but I cannot and should not do it alone (according to the Bible). Will we be a church of integrity knowing each of us is involved somehow in making disciples for our Lord?
Disciple-making churches find despair when living in pretense rather than making disciples. (Revelation 3.1-6)
One of the biggest challenges for any person or any church is to avoid comparisons with others. Many self-righteous Christians believe they are always better than the next person. “Can you believe so-and-so...?” This approach is similar to the mindset of the Pharisees.
On the other hand, many wonderful Christians are too modest and believe that they are not worthy of some responsibility or ministry opportunity. “Well, I just don’t think I am capable of....” despite that everyone else around them knows something to be true. And besides, most of us have heard, “God qualifies the called, He doesn’t necessary call those who are qualified.”
But instead of comparing ourselves to others, what if we listened to God? That is one of the benefits that Revelation 2 and 3 provide – a look into Jesus thoughts on the church. Jesus gave His critique to seven different churches in what is now, primarily, the country of Turkey. Five of the seven churches had serious issues to correct and the church of Sardis was one of those five. Jesus said they were living off of a false reputation. People on the outside thought the church was fine, but on the inside it was nearly dead (v 2). The church needed to repent or die (v 3). Of course, not every individual in the church was responsible for its pending death, but for those that were, their salvation was in question too. That is, were they really saved, or like the church, were they just pretending to be something they were not – maybe having convinced themselves they were ok.
Can you imagine a church getting this message from Jesus? It would be one thing if a pastor said it; he could be fired and the church simply moves on. But if Jesus said it? What would the reaction be? What should it be? The truth is that the church of Sardis was stagnant, and the people would soon be in despair that they did not follow the way that was prescribed for them. The choice was theirs, but how would they respond?
Fairfax Baptist Church, are we pretending to be something we are not? Are we pretending to be better than we are? Are we fooling ourselves that we are a church better than we are and God is smiling as He looks down on all we do? If Jesus was to walk in the door right now, what critique would he have of us – individually and collectively? Specifically, as it relates to His command to make disciples – are we doing our part or do we need to “remember, then, what you have seen and heard” (v. 3)?
Disciple-making churches find their ministry complete when focused on making disciples. (2 Timothy 4.6-8)
This passage is not about a church, it is about Paul. It is an autobiographical statement that many know well. It is one that has been read or preached at many funerals. But the principles that is true for the individual, can be extrapolated here for our purposes related to the church. As I mentioned earlier, Paul had direct involvement with over 30 individuals. He started many churches and encouraged both churches and individuals throughout his ministry, including his letters from which we still benefit today.
This letter is the last letter we have that Paul wrote. If he wrote any after this, they were lost shortly thereafter. But we know this letter was written from Rome and likely very shortly before his death. Paul uses two phrases to indicate he expects death. Being “poured out” is indicative of the blood that will be shed, and the word for departure reflects the idea of going home. Two primary uses in the first century were of soldiers breaking camp to return home or a ship lifting anchor to set sail for home. Paul realizes where that his true home awaits and he is ready to begin the final journey.
But Paul had a choice to make long before this. In Paul’s conversion experience, I want you to notice a subtle difference at the beginning of Acts 9. Please note that Paul was seeking to harm people of “the Way” (verse 2) because he was doing things “his way” (v. 3).
Verse 2 – “...so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Verse 3 – “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus,...”
Having made this choice years earlier, He is now prepared for his final journey because he knows he has accomplished what has been given unto him. Having fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith, Paul encourages Timothy to do the same. (In fact, Paul is reminding Timothy of what has been written to him earlier – see 1 Tim 6.12 (fight the good fight), 1 Tim 6.14 (finish the race), and 2 Tim 1.5-6 to keep the faith.)
Having accomplished what he has, Paul knows he will soon face a trial before a human judge who will have him executed. But instead of despairing for his life, Paul has integrity knowing that the righteous judge – Jesus – has a crown of righteousness waiting for him when the Final Judgement takes place. But this crown of righteousness is not just for Paul but for all who forsake their own way in order to follow the Way.
Fairfax Baptist Church, will we focus on our thoughts, understandings, comforts, hopes and dreams or will we follow God’s? In other words, will Fairfax Baptist Church be known for following our way or following The Way? When our lives are through, will we die with dignity and integrity knowing we have successfully finished the tasks we have been given? Will our church continue knowing that the race of those in the future depends on how well we run the race now?
Like Paul, we have a choice to make. Frank Sinatra may have sang about doing it “My Way”, but as believers, we need to be followers of the Way.
I began this post with the idea of riding off into the sunset. As I mentioned, being able to ride off meant that one story was done. But what about the next story? That is, what happened next? In the Bible we see the great narrative of over several thousand years which pointed forward to Jesus from the Old Testament, and backwards to His death and resurrection in the New Testament. But what happened next?
For instance, what happened next to the church at Antioch? Did they continue being faithful to the gospel or did they lose their focus and eventually lose their influence as Christians and even close their doors as a church?
What happened next to the church at Sardis? Did they listen to Jesus and repent – turning back towards a healthy and vibrant church? Or did they think that their reputation could carry them through and eventually close their doors?
For Paul, we pretty well know what happened next. Whether days, weeks, or months, Paul’s life ended. It ended, but his message didn’t, because his message was the message of God. Therefore, his life serves as an example for all of us.
Fairfax Baptist Church, what happens to us next? Will we be faithful to God’s call upon us as a church? Will we work to see ourselves and others to become more like Christ – becoming the disciples He wants us to be? Will we keep focused on Jesus like Paul did or will we listen to the world’s advice to “follow your heart.”
None of us knows when we will walk towards our final sunset. But, as a church, we can postpone the final sunset if we heed the command of Jesus to make disciples and follow the Way He has set before us.
JOURNEY: JOURNEY: This week, the letter is the entire word. We must focus on His Way throughout life’s journey if we are to remain faithful to our call.
NEXT STEP(S): Leave: I usually don’t include this step, but one day we will all be gone (like Paul). What are you doing right now that will leave the church prepared for that day? That is, who are you not only discipling spiritually, but training practically, to carry on when God calls you home?