Cherry Trees

A VISION for Our Church

Over a month ago I shared my VISION for the Antrim Church of Christ, followed a week later by a sermon on the "V" in VISION…which stood for "value"…as in, "My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will only get our values from the Bible and that we will value heavenly things more than earthly ones."

I also promised that we'd go through the rest of the letters in VISION one per month…and this month it means we are on the letter I…as in, "My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will always have integrity."

What is Integrity?

When you think of integrity, who comes to mind?

Somebody at work? Somebody from church? Somebody from history?

For me, it's George Washington. Not because I have any proof that our first president had more integrity than anyone else…but because of a story involving him and a cherry tree…one that didn't work out so well for the tree…but did show that young George Washington had integrity. Remember the punch-line?

"I cannot tell a lie, I chopped down the cherry tree."

I'm sure those aren't the exact words…but when confronted with a situation where telling the truth likely meant punishment, Washington's integrity…at least during childhood…meant he had to tell the truth.

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

But integrity is more than just telling the truth, isn't it? My Mac's dictionary says it is "the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness."

I don't know about you, but my brain defaults to the first part of that definition…"the quality of being honest." But, think about it…

If someone at work lies, do they have integrity? [ No. ]

What if they always tell the truth, but take office supplies home? [ No. ]

People who lie and/or steal don't have integrity.

What about a coworker who always tells the truth and isn't a thief…but they only half-do their job…forcing other people to pick-up the slack? Do they have integrity? [ No. ]

"Strong moral principles" means no matter how little your paycheck is, you still bust your tail and do everything you are paid to do.

Church Integrity

During the VISION sermon I discussed how during a visit to Nashville I met a woman who worked in promoting Christian music. As I mentioned, the people they had the worst time trusting were churches…ones that would cancel last minute (even though the contract didn't allow it)…or bounce a check…and so on. You would think that a "dishonest church" would be an oxymoron…but it's not.

But when I say, "My vision for the Antrim Church of Christ is that we will always have integrity," I don't think that we are going to lie or break a contract or bounce a check.

However, I do think at times we are like a worker who only half-does his or her job. That we've been given some pretty specific duties as a congregation (and as individuals) and that we leave our work incomplete or don't do it wholeheartedly. This isn't a minor oversight considering one of the purpose of the church we can find in Ephesians 3:7-10:

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

When people look at the Antrim Church of Christ, do they see "the manifold wisdom of God"? 2 Corinthians 5:20, in part, says that "we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us." How are we doing as ambassadors? When people see us, do they see the One we represent?

Or do they just see us? Are there areas where our lack of integrity reflects badly on Christ?

What We Lack

Now, I don't want to come off too harsh…I'm not saying we are total failures. Also, I can't think of any area of responsibility that we totally neglect.

Additionally, it would take a long sermon series instead of a single talk to go over all our responsibilities…the list of expectations…rather blessings…is long. Instead, I'd like to look at one longer reference (in parts) and agree together that we will show improved integrity in these areas.

A Last Goodbye

Last week I noted that we put great weight into "last words"…and I also noted a couple of times where Jesus called people together to hear Him…which added to the import of His message ("Come listen" interactions). Well, in Acts 20:17-35 we have a case where Paul calls for the Ephesian Elders…and it's the last time they are every going to see him. It was very important.

Within those verses Paul doesn't charge the Ephesian Elders to do much directly…but I can't help but think he is indirectly telling them to do exactly what he has done…

Command by example and reminder.

Let's read it in three parts…first Acts 20:17-21:

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

"You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

From those five verses we can get two major points based on Paul's behavior:

  • A church that shows integrity serves the Lord with humility.
  • A church that shows integrity does not shrink from declaring anything profitable, both in public and in private…testifying of "repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."

Again…just in case…I'm not saying we lack humility or that we shrink from declaring truth…but…especially with the latter…I do think we can improve…me included…

Or perhaps…me especially.

Let's continue with the next 9 verses:

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:22-30).

Things aren't looking very good for Paul…the Holy Spirit told him he could look forward to "imprisonment and afflictions." But instead of avoiding it…or spending his last days on the beach getting some sun before being locked up…he wanted to make sure the elders were prepared for his absence…

And in this section we get a few more important points for our humble little fellowship:

  • A church that shows integrity does not value itself over its work (we do not "account [our lives] of any value or precious to [ourselves], if only [we] may finish [our] course and the ministry that [we] received").
  • A church that shows integrity does not shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God.
  • A church that shows integrity pays careful attention to its flock…especially since it was obtained at the cost of Jesus' blood.

Now…the first one may seem like some odd advice…but think about it. How many churches, seeing their ranks diminish, have then decided to take man's approach to ministry instead of God's? Or, in feeling the heat from society, have decided to live by man's morals instead of God's? The church can get so concerned about itself that what is left afterward is only an evil caricature of the unblemished bride Jesus created. At best, makeup on a pig.

The second one is sort of a repeat of the second bullet from the first section. As a church we cannot avoid any subject…we must declare the whole counsel of God. We've chatted before about there being at least one topic that's going to get harder and harder with.

Stopping for a moment here…I think we do okay with the first two in this part. Sure, we can do better, but I don't think we've sold our soul to get people to attend or to keep people from looking down on us…and I've never been told to avoid a subject up here in the pulpit.

How about the third one…paying careful attention to our flock…a flock that cost the blood of the Son of the Most High?

This is one are I definitely think we can do better on. For instance, how many people know how Traci is doing? Or Randi? Or Heidi? Those three are just examples of members who have had busy summers that have kept them, in most part, away from this sanctuary. If something went wrong in their lives, would you know it? What about if it went right?

And I don't just mean via Facebook. 🙂

As I've mentioned before, we need to be closer to each other than even the unsaved members of our own family.

We aren't.

We can be.

Let's wrap up reading Paul's words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:31-35:

31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "

Notice how great advice always ends up with Jesus? 🙂

In this final section we can lear that:

  • A church that shows integrity admonishes its members.
  • A church that shows integrity doesn't covet silver or gold or apparel.
  • A church that shows integrity ministers to the necessities of those who are with us.
  • A church that shows integrity helps the weak.
  • A church that shows integrity gives more than it receives.

Out of those five bullets I think we do pretty well with four of them…especially not coveting apparel :-)…although obviously we are far from perfect…and need to strive for perfection.

The one I think we lack most on is the first…"a church that shows integrity admonishes its members."

This is a scary one.

Correcting is frightening both for the one who needs to be admonished…and the one that does the admonishing. No normal person likes confrontation…or to be confronted.

But who would go to a doctor who wouldn't tell you you have lung cancer because he or she doesn't want to offend you?

Who wants an English teacher who won't make you fix your paper because he or she doesn't want to hurt your feelings?

Well…maybe that last one is a bad example…I think a lot of us would like English teachers like that! 🙂

But who would want a minister, or an elder, or a friend who will silently allow you kill yourself physically or spiritually?

And who wants the scene where someone, at the gates of hell, looks up to you and says, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Where was your integrity?"

Don't worry…I am not espousing a witch-hunt…and obviously we should always tell the truth in love (see Ephesians 4:15)…but we know "the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" (Hebrews 12:6). Is our love somehow superior to his? And, considering the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, do we really want to force the Lord's hand?

Personally, I would rather not have to pen the words, "And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things" (Acts 5:11).

I'd much rather be able to say, as Paul did in the previous section, that I am innocent of your blood.

If You Love Me

If you love me, then come to me if you have a concern about me. Don't worry about my feelings…if I'm a jerk in return, it's on me, not you.

Otherwise you don't actually love me.

And if the church isn't willing to do that for its members, we don't love each other.

Integrity

Like Paul, I am pretty proud of this church. Considering how small we are, how limited our resources are, how busy so many of us are…

I think Jesus has a smile on His lips.

I do think we have integrity…that you have integrity.

Do you agree?

However, both Paul and Jesus made a point, in the midst of compliments, to be sure to not ignore concerns…so I hope you sitting before me don't mind if I do the same.

  • We can pay better attention to our flock.
  • We need to start admonishing each other.

Oddly enough, they are connected, aren't they?

Let's all pray about it…let's not be satisfied with the status-quo…

But most of all…

While doing all of it let's keep our eyes on the One who is the embodiment of integrity.

Jesus Christ.


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